All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) induces miR-23a expression, decreases CTSC expression and granzyme B activity leading to impaired NK cell cytotoxicity

Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2014 Apr;49:42-52. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2014.01.003. Epub 2014 Jan 15.


NK cell is an innate immune system lymphocyte lineage with natural cytotoxicity. Its optimal use in the clinic requires in vitro expansion and activation. Cytokines and encounter with target cells activate NK cells and induce proliferation, and this could depend on the presence of other immune cells. Here we activated PBMCs during 5 days with IL-2, with IL-2 plus the tumor cell line K562 and with the lymphoblastoid cell line R69 and perform integrated analyses of microRNA and mRNA expression profiles of purified NK cells. The samples cluster depending on the stimuli and not on the donor, indicating that the pattern of NK cell stimulation is acutely well conserved between individuals. Regulation of mRNA expression is tighter than that of miRNA expression. All stimuli induce a common preserved genetic remodeling. In addition, encounter with target cells mainly activates pathways related to metabolism. Different target cells induce different NK cell remodeling which affects cytokine response and cytotoxicity, supporting the notion that encounter with different target cells significantly changing the activation pattern. We validate our analysis by showing that activation down regulates miR-23a, which is a negative regulator of cathepsin C (CTSC) mRNA, a gene up regulated by all stimuli. The peptidase CTSC activates the granzymes, the main effector proteases involved in NK cell cytotoxicity. All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), which induces miR-23a expression, decreases CTSC expression and granzyme B activity leading to impaired NK cell cytotoxicity in an in vivo mouse model.

Keywords: Cathepsin C; NK cells; Transcriptomics; miR-23a; miRNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cathepsin C / genetics*
  • Cathepsin C / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Granzymes / genetics*
  • Granzymes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-2 / pharmacology
  • Jurkat Cells
  • K562 Cells
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Transcriptome / drug effects
  • Transcriptome / genetics
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology*


  • Interleukin-2
  • MIRN23a microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • Mirn23b microRNA, mouse
  • Tretinoin
  • Cathepsin C
  • Ctsc protein, mouse
  • Granzymes

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE50840