The potential role of NK cells in the separation of graft-versus-tumor effects from graft-versus-host disease after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation

Immunol Rev. 1997 Jun;157:167-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065x.1997.tb00981.x.


Allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (BMT) is being increasingly used for the treatment of a variety of cancers ranging from leukemias to breast cancer. However, significant obstacles currently limit the efficacy of this treatment procedure. The predominant two are the occurrence of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and relapse from the cancer. While regimens exist that prevent the occurrence or severity of GVHD, these same regimens also increase the rate of relapse. Conversely, most attempts to reduce the relapse rate also result in increased GVHD. The use of NK cells as an adoptive immunotherapy after BMT is attractive for several reasons. NK cells exhibit antitumor effects both in vitro and in animal models and may, therefore, promote graft-versus-tumor (GVT) effects to remove minimal residual disease after allogeneic BMT. NK cells have also been shown to promote hematopoietic engraftment and donor cell reconstitution after allogeneic BMT in mice. The effects of NK cells on hematopoiesis are believed to be due to the hematopoietic growth factors they can produce after activation. Another advantage in using NK cells is that they can prevent the occurrence of GVHD after allogeneic BMT in mice. This effect is mediated at least in part by the immunosuppressive cytokine, transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta). BMT studies in mice also indicate that the beneficial effects of NK cells are optimal if they are administered soon after the transplant. Thereafter, NK cells and, more importantly, IL-2, which is used to activate them, are detrimental and can exacerbate the subsequent GVHD. Thus, the use of activated NK cells after allogeneic BMT may provide GVT effects without inducing GVHD.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Graft vs Host Disease / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / methods
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / immunology
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / therapy