NK cell-based cancer immunotherapy: from basic biology to clinical application

Sci China Life Sci. 2015 Dec;58(12):1233-45. doi: 10.1007/s11427-015-4970-9. Epub 2015 Nov 20.


Natural killer (NK) cells, which recognize and kill target cells independent of antigen specificity and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) matching, play pivotal roles in immune defence against tumors. However, tumor cells often acquire the ability to escape NK cell-mediated immune surveillance. Thus, understanding mechanisms underlying regulation of NK cell phenotype and function within the tumor environment is instrumental for designing new approaches to improve the current cell-based immunotherapy. In this review, we elaborate the main biological features and molecular mechanisms of NK cells that pertain to regulation of NK cell-mediated anti-tumor activity. We further overview current clinical approaches regarding NK cell-based cancer therapy, including cytokine infusion, adoptive transfer of autologous or allogeneic NK cells, applications of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-expressing NK cells and adoptive transfer of memory-like NK cells. With these promising clinical outcomes and fuller understanding the basic questions raised in this review, we foresee that NK cell-based approaches may hold great potential for future cancer immunotherapy.

Keywords: NK cell; adoptive transfer; cancer; cytokine infusion; immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / immunology
  • Cell Communication / immunology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / methods*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology