Effect of the simultaneous administration of glucocorticoids and IL-15 on human NK cell phenotype, proliferation and function

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2011 Dec;60(12):1683-95. doi: 10.1007/s00262-011-1067-6. Epub 2011 Jun 26.


We have previously reported a synergistic effect between hydrocortisone (HC) and IL-15 on promoting natural killer (NK) cell expansion and function. In the present study, we extend our findings to methylprednisolone (MeP) and dexamethasone (Dex), thus ascribing to glucocorticoids (GCs) a general feature as positive regulators of IL-15-mediated effects on NK cells. We demonstrate that each GC when combined with IL-15 in cultures of peripheral blood (PB)-derived CD56(+) cells induces increased expansion of CD56(+)CD3(-) cells displaying high cytolytic activity, IFN-γ production potential and activating receptor expression, including NKp30, NKp44, NKp46, 2B4, NKG2D and DNAM-1. Furthermore, GCs protected NK cells from IL-15-induced cell death. The combination of IL-15 with GCs favored the expansion of a relatively more immature CD16(low/neg) NK cell population, with high expression of NKG2A and CD94, and significantly lower expression of KIR (CD158a and CD158b) and CD57, compared to IL-15 alone. IL-15-expanded NK cells, in the presence or absence of GCs, did not express CD62L, CXCR1 or CCR7. However, the presence of GCs significantly increased the density of CXCR3 and induced strong CXCR4 expression on the surface of NK cells. Our data indicate that IL-15/GC-expanded NK cells, apart from their increased proliferation rate, retain their functional integrity and exhibit a migratory potential rendering them useful for adoptive transfer in NK cell-based cancer immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Cell Separation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Interleukin-15 / pharmacology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Methylprednisolone / pharmacology
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Interleukin-15
  • Dexamethasone
  • Methylprednisolone