Selective effects of radiotherapy on viability and function of invariant natural killer T cells in vitro

Radiother Oncol. 2020 Apr;145:128-136. doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2019.12.016. Epub 2020 Jan 19.


Background and purpose: Immunotherapies involving the adoptive transfer of ex vivo expanded autologous invariant natural killer (iNKT) cells are a potential option for cancer patients and are under investigation in clinical trials. Most cancer patients receive radiotherapy at some point during their treatment. We investigated the effects of therapeutic doses of radiation on the viability and function of human primary cultures of iNKT cells in vitro.

Materials and methods: iNKT cell lines generated from 6 healthy donors were subjected to therapeutically-relevant doses of radiation. Cell cycle arrest and cell death were assessed by flow cytometry. Double strand DNA breaks were analysed by measuring phosphorylated histone H2AX expression by fluorescence microscopy. Cytolytic degranulation, cytokine production and cytotoxicity by antigen-stimulated iNKT cells were assessed by flow cytometry.

Results: Radiation inhibited viability of iNKT cells in a dose-dependent manner. Radiation caused double strand DNA breaks, which were rapidly repaired, and affected the cell cycle at high doses. Moderate doses of radiation did not inhibit degranulation or cytotoxicity by iNKT cells, but induced perforin expression and inhibited proliferation and interferon-γ production by surviving iNKT cells.

Discussion: Exposure of iNKT cell to radiation can negatively affect their viability and function.

Keywords: Cancer; Immunotherapy; Invariant NKT cells; Radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Killer Cells, Natural
  • Natural Killer T-Cells*
  • Neoplasms*