The role of regulatory T cells in the control of natural killer cells: relevance during tumor progression

Immunol Rev. 2006 Dec;214:229-38. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065X.2006.00445.x.


Tumor immunosurveillance relies on cognate immune effectors [lymphocytes and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma)] and innate immunity [natural killer (NK) cells, natural killer group 2, member D (NKG2D) ligands, perforin/granzyme, and tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand]. In parallel, tumor cells promote the expansion of CD4(+)CD25(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs) that counteract T-cell-based anti-tumor immunity. Moreover, accumulating evidence points to a critical role for Tregs in dampening NK cell immune responses. This review summarizes the findings showing that Tregs suppress NK cell effector functions in vitro and in vivo, i.e. homeostatic proliferation, cytotoxicity, and interleukin-12-mediated IFN-gamma production. The molecular mechanism involve selective expression of membrane-bound transforming growth factor-beta on Tregs, which downregulate NKG2D expression on NK cells in vitro and in vivo. The regulatory events dictating NK cell suppression by Tregs have been studied and are discussed. The pathological relevance of the Treg-NK cell interaction has been brought up in tumor models and in patients with cancer. Consequently, inhibition of Tregs through pharmacological interventions should be considered during NK-cell-based immunotherapy of cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / metabolism