Interleukin-15 supports generation of highly potent clinical-grade natural killer cells in long-term cultures for targeting hematological malignancies

Exp Hematol. 2011 Sep;39(9):904-14. doi: 10.1016/j.exphem.2011.06.003. Epub 2011 Jun 13.


Objective: Interleukin (IL)-15 is a promising novel cytokine for natural killer (NK) cell activation and survival. We studied the effects of IL-15 compared to IL-2 on NK cells in long-term cultures for clinical translation.

Materials and methods: CD56(+)CD3(-) NK cells were expanded with IL-2 or IL-15 for 2 to 4 weeks within lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cell cultures (LAK-NK) in serum-enriched AIM V or CellGro Stem Cell Growth Medium (SCGM). Cell growth, viability, and NK cell content were monitored and cytotoxicity assessed in a flow cytometric cytotoxicity assay.

Results: IL-15 (100-1000 U/mL) could replace IL-2 (1000 U/mL) in AIM V cultures to achieve efficient LAK cell expansion. However, IL-15-stimulated LAK cells exceeded cytotoxicity of IL-2-stimulated LAK cells against K562, notably at later culture points. In the powerful CellGro SCGM, LAK cells expanded over 28 days an average of 905-fold ± 320-fold standard error of the mean (SEM) for IL-2 (500 U/mL) and 484-fold ± 98-fold SEM for IL-15 (500 U/mL), and NK cells within such LAK cultures expanded an average of 2320-fold ± 975-fold SEM for IL-2 and 1084-fold ± 309-fold SEM for IL-15. Importantly, such IL-15-activated LAK-NK cells retained enhanced cytotoxicity at later culture points against K562 as well. IL-15-stimulated effectors were also highly cytotoxic against hematological targets MOLT-4 and KU812 and nontoxic against autologous nonmalignant cells. Interestingly, IL-15-LAK-NK cells showed overall significant upregulation of the main activating and inhibitory NK cell receptors after long-term cytokine stimulation.

Conclusions: Our results demonstrate the potential for IL-15 to support large-scale expansion of clinical-grade LAK-NK effectors, which could retain enhanced longer-term potency and preserve activation receptors in therapy of hematological malignancies. Protocols are readily clinically translatable.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blood
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-15 / physiology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology*


  • Interleukin-15