Ex vivo-expanded natural killer cells kill cancer cells more effectively than ex vivo-expanded γδ T cells or αβ T cells

Int Immunopharmacol. 2014 Oct;22(2):486-91. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2014.07.036. Epub 2014 Aug 11.


Adoptive immunotherapy of cancer is evolving with the development of novel technologies for generating a large number of activated killer cells such as natural killer (NK) cells, γδ T cells, and αβ T cells. We have recently established large-scale culture methods to generate activated NK cells from human peripheral blood, and demonstrated that expanded NK cells have higher cytotoxicity against cancer cells than freshly isolated NK cells. In this study, we compared cultured NK cells with cultured γδ T and αβ T cells that were prepared by conventional culture methods regarding the expression of cytotoxic molecules and cytotoxicity against cancer cells. Natural cytotoxicity receptors such as NKp30, NKp44 and NKp46, and perforin were expressed most exclusively on NK cells. Granzyme A, NKG2D, and interferon-γ were dominantly expressed in NK cells and γδ T cells but not in αβ T cells. Consistent with the expression profiles of the cytotoxic molecules, cultured NK cells from both healthy volunteers and cancer patients demonstrated significantly higher cytotoxicity against cancer cell lines, including MHC class I-positive cell lines, compared with cultured γδ T cells and cultured αβ T cells. Additionally, NK cells, unlike γδ T cells or αβ T cells, expressed high levels of CD16, and showed augmented cytotoxicity when co-administered with an anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody drug, rituximab. These results suggest the excellent efficacy of expanded NK cells for cancer treatment.

Keywords: Cancer patients; Cytotoxicity; Natural killer cells; Rituximab; αβ T cells; γδ T cells.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / cytology
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Rituximab
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Rituximab