Upregulation of NKG2D ligands and enhanced natural killer cell cytotoxicity by hydralazine and valproate

Int J Oncol. 2011 Dec;39(6):1491-9. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2011.1144. Epub 2011 Jul 26.


Natural killer cells play a role in the immune antitumor response by recognizing and eliminating tumor cells through the engagement of NKG2D receptors with their ligands on target cells. This work aimed to investigate whether epigenetic drugs are able to increase MICA and MICB expression as well as NK cell cytotoxicity. Prostate, colon, breast and cervical cancer cell lines were analyzed for the expression of MICA and MICB at the mRNA and protein levels by RT-PCR, Western blot, flow cytometry and ELISA. The activating mark H3K4m2 at the MICA and MICB promoters was investigated by ChIP assays. Cytotoxicity of NK cells against the target epithelial cancer cells was investigated with the CD107 cytotoxicity assay. The results show that hydralazine and valproic acid not only increase the expression of MICA and MICB ligands of target cells, but also reduce their shedding to the supernatant. This upregulation occurs at the transcriptional level as revealed by increase of the H3K4 activating mark at the promoter of MICA and MICB genes. These effects are paralleled by increased cytotoxicity of NK cells, which was attenuated at different degrees by using blocking antibodies against the NKG2D receptor and ligands. In conclusion, our results demonstrate the ability of hydralazine and valproate to increase the NK activity against epithelial cancer cell lines and suggest that these drugs could reduce the levels of soluble MICA and MICB helping in avoiding tumor-induced suppression of NK cytotoxicity against the tumor.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / drug effects*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / genetics
  • Humans
  • Hydralazine / pharmacology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Ligands
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily K / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Protein Binding / immunology
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects*
  • Valproic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Ligands
  • MHC class I-related chain A
  • MICB antigen
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily K
  • Hydralazine
  • Valproic Acid