Combined immunogene therapy of IL-6 and IL-15 enhances anti-tumor activity through augmented NK cytotoxicity

Cancer Lett. 2008 Dec 18;272(2):285-95. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2008.07.016. Epub 2008 Aug 29.


Many tumors evade host immunity by lowering expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. Theoretically, low MHC expression should activate natural killer (NK) cells and in some cases suppress tumor growth; nevertheless, some tumors also produce high concentrations of immunosuppressive cytokines, such as transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta, to inhibit the activity of NK cells. Using a canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT) model, we have previously demonstrated that IL-6 is a strong antagonist for TGF-beta. Herein, we found that IL-6 alone was unable to significantly promote TGF-beta-inhibited NK activities. Conversely, IL-15 alone strongly promoted NK activities; however, NK activities were inhibited to baseline levels following the addition of TGF-beta. Therefore, a new strategy using combined immunogene therapy of both IL-6 and IL-15 mediated by electroporation was used in this study. This combined IL-6 and IL-15 treatment effectively relieved the inhibitory effect of TGF-beta and activated NK cell cytotoxicity of lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells. Similarly, in isolated DX5+ NK cells, only IL-6 and IL-15 in combination significantly overcame the inhibitory effect of TGF-beta and promoted NK cytotoxicity. The group of BALB/c mice injected with plasmids with IL-6 and IL-15 genes (pIL-6/pIL-15) had the highest percentages of DX5+ NK cells as compared with either the pIL-6 or pIL-15 groups. Further, in SCID mice inoculated with CTVT, electroporation-mediated delivery of pIL-6/pIL-15 was significantly more efficient in suppressing both tumor establishment and tumor growth as compared with pIL-6 or pIL-15 inoculation alone. In addition, the anti-asialo GM-1 antibody abolished NK activities in SCID mice and resulted in outgrowth of the tumors. Together, these results suggest that the TGF-beta-associated inhibition of NK cytotoxicity cannot be adequately restored by simply antagonizing TGF-beta with IL-6: the co-existence of NK activating factors such as IL-15 is also important in restoring TGF-beta-inhibited cytotoxicity. This study highlights the therapeutic potential of the pIL-6/pIL-15 combination by inhibiting TGF-beta activity and enhancing NK cytotoxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Genetic Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Interleukin-15 / genetics*
  • Interleukin-6 / genetics*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, SCID
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / immunology
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / therapy*


  • Interleukin-15
  • Interleukin-6