Combination of NK Cells and Cetuximab to Enhance Anti-Tumor Responses in RAS Mutant Metastatic Colorectal Cancer

PLoS One. 2016 Jun 17;11(6):e0157830. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0157830. eCollection 2016.


The ability of Natural Killer (NK) cells to kill tumor targets has been extensively studied in various hematological malignancies. However, NK cell therapy directed against solid tumors is still in early development. Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) targeted therapies using monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) such as cetuximab and panitumumab are widely used for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC). Still, the clinical efficacy of this treatment is hampered by mutations in RAS gene, allowing tumors to escape from anti-EGFR mAb therapy. It is well established that NK cells kill tumor cells by natural cytotoxicity and can in addition be activated upon binding of IgG1 mAbs through Fc receptors (CD16/FcγRIIIa) on their surface, thereby mediating antibody dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC). In the current study, activated Peripheral Blood NK cells (PBNK) were combined with anti-EGFR mAbs to study their effect on the killing of EGFR+/- cancer cell lines, including those with RAS mutations. In vitro cytotoxicity experiments using colon cancer primary tumors and cell lines COLO320, Caco-2, SW620, SW480 and HT-29, demonstrated that PBNK cells are cytotoxic for a range of tumor cells, regardless of EGFR, RAS or BRAF status and at low E:T ratios. Cetuximab enhanced the cytotoxic activity of NK cells on EGFR+ tumor cells (either RASwt, RASmut or BRAFmut) in a CD16 dependent manner, whereas it could not increase the killing of EGFR- COLO320. Our study provides a rationale to strengthen NK cell immunotherapy through a combination with cetuximab for RAS and BRAF mutant mCRC patients.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / administration & dosage
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / immunology
  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell- and Tissue-Based Therapy
  • Cetuximab / administration & dosage*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • HT29 Cells
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural*
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics*
  • ras Proteins / genetics*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors
  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • ras Proteins
  • Cetuximab

Grant support

This work was supported by the Marie Curie FP7 NATURIMMUN Network ( to JV. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The funder (Glycostem) provided support in the form of salaries for authors: JS, JV, MT, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the 'author contribution' section.