Background: In a group of patients with head and neck cancers (H&NC), the expansion of the population of CD3-,CD16+ natural killer (NK) cells in the peripheral blood was studied.
Methods: Cytofluorimetric analysis of the expression of killer Ig-like receptors (KIR, namely p58.1, p58.2, p58.3, p70, and p140) and CD94-NKG2a was performed. Cytolytic activities were studied using 51Cr release assay. T and NK cell cloning was performed using limiting dilution culture conditions. Cytokine production was analyzed using commercial enzyme immunoassays.
Results: Phenotypic analysis showed that the expanded populations were heterogeneous. Even in the presence of a large number of circulating NK cells, "nonspecific" cytolytic capacities were heavily reduced, whereas cytolytic capacity related to T cells was virtually normal. Unlike NK cell clones derived from healthy donors, most NK cells derived from H&NC patients expressed surface "activating" NK cell receptors (KAR) for HLA, detected by use of a redirected cytolytic assay. Analysis of the CD4+ subpopulation at the clonal level demonstrated that they had a severe proliferative defect.
Conclusion: These experimental data indicated that H&NC patients have a polyclonal expansion of functionally deficient NK cells expressing KAR. In addition, the proliferative capacity of patients' "helper" cells was strongly inhibited, thus accounting for a severe impairment of cytolytic activity of the expanded NK cells.
Copyright 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.