Engineering a natural ligand-based CAR: directed evolution of the stress-receptor NKp30

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2022 Jan;71(1):165-176. doi: 10.1007/s00262-021-02971-y. Epub 2021 May 27.


B7H6, a stress-induced ligand which binds to the NK cell receptor NKp30, has recently emerged as a promising candidate for immunotherapy due to its tumor-specific expression on a broad array of human tumors. NKp30 can function as a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) extracellular domain but exhibits weak binding with a fast on and off rate to B7H6 compared to the TZ47 anti-B7H6 single-chain variable fragment (scFv). Here, directed evolution using yeast display was employed to isolate novel NKp30 variants that bind to B7H6 with higher affinity compared to the native receptor but retain its fast association and dissociation profile. Two variants, CC3 and CC5, were selected for further characterization and were expressed as soluble Fc-fusion proteins and CARs containing CD28 and CD3ς intracellular domains. We observed that Fc-fusion protein forms of NKp30 and its variants were better able to bind tumor cells expressing low levels of B7H6 than TZ47, and that the novel variants generally exhibited improved in vitro tumor cell killing relative to NKp30. Interestingly, CAR T cells expressing the engineered variants produced unique cytokine signatures in response to multiple tumor types expressing B7H6 compared to both NKp30 and TZ47. These findings suggest that natural CAR receptors can be fine-tuned to produce more desirable signaling outputs while maintaining evolutionary advantages in ligand recognition relative to scFvs.

Keywords: B7H6; CAR; Chimeric antigen receptor; Directed evolution; NKp30; Natural receptor.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B7 Antigens / chemistry*
  • CD28 Antigens / chemistry
  • CD3 Complex / chemistry
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Separation
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Library
  • Genetic Variation
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Kinetics
  • Ligands
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • Natural Cytotoxicity Triggering Receptor 3 / chemistry*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen / chemistry*
  • Single-Chain Antibodies / chemistry


  • B7 Antigens
  • CD28 Antigens
  • CD3 Complex
  • CD3 antigen, zeta chain
  • Cytokines
  • Ligands
  • NCR3LG1 protein, human
  • Natural Cytotoxicity Triggering Receptor 3
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen
  • Single-Chain Antibodies