NKG2A discriminates natural killer cells with a suppressed phenotype in pediatric acute leukemia

J Leukoc Biol. 2024 Jan 19;115(2):334-343. doi: 10.1093/jleuko/qiad112.


Natural killer (NK) cells are important for early tumor immune surveillance. In patients with hematological cancers, NK cells are generally functional deficient and display dysregulations in their receptor repertoires. Acute leukemia is the most common cancer in children, and we here performed a comparative phenotypic profiling of NK cells from B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (BCP-ALL) patients to identify aberrant NK cell phenotypes. NK cell phenotypes, maturation, and function were analyzed in matched bone marrow and blood NK cells from BCP-ALL patients at diagnosis, during treatment, and at end of treatment and compared with age-matched pediatric control subjects. Expression of several markers were skewed in patients, but with large interindividual variations. Undertaking a multiparameter approach, we found that high expression levels of NKG2A was the single predominant marker distinguishing NK cells in BCP-ALL patients compared with healthy control subjects. Moreover, naïve CD57-NKG2A NK cells dominated in BCP-ALL patients at diagnosis. Further, we found dysregulated expression of the activating receptor DNAM-1 in resident bone marrow CXCR6+ NK cells. CXCR6+ NK cells lacking DNAM-1 expressed NKG2A and had a tendency for lower degranulation activity. In conclusion, high expression of NKG2A dominates NK cell phenotypes from pediatric BCP-ALL patients, indicating that NKG2A could be targeted in therapies for this patient group.

Keywords: BCP-ALL; CXCR6; DNAM-1; blood; bone marrow.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute*
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily C
  • Phenotype


  • Biomarkers
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily C