Suppression of graft-versus-host disease and amplification of graft-versus-tumor effects by activated natural killer cells after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation

J Clin Invest. 1998 May 1;101(9):1835-42. doi: 10.1172/JCI1268.


Bone marrow transplantation (BMT) is currently used for the treatment of a variety of neoplastic diseases. However, significant obstacles limiting the efficacy of allogeneic BMT are the occurrence of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) and tumor relapse. Natural killer (NK) cells exert a variety of immunologic and homoeostatic functions. We examined whether adoptive transfer of activated NK cells of donor type would prevent GvHD after allogeneic BMT in mice. Lethally irradiated C57BL/6 (H-2(b)) mice, were transplanted with MHC incompatible BALB/c (H-2(d)) bone marrow cells and spleen cells and rapidly succumbed to acute GvHD. In contrast, mice that also received activated NK cells of donor type exhibited significant increases in survival. In determining the mechanism by which the NK cells prevented GvHD, mice were concurrently treated with a neutralizing antibodies to the immunosuppressive cytokine TGFbeta. Anti-TGFbeta completely abrogated the protective effects of the activated donor NK cells indicating that TGFbeta plays an important role in the prevention of GvHD by NK cells. We then examined whether activated NK cells of donor type after allogeneic BMT would induce graft-versus-tumor (GvT) effects without GvHD in mice bearing a murine colon adenocarcinoma (MCA-38). 10 d after receiving the tumor, in which the mice had demonstrable lung metastases, recipients received an allogeneic BMT with or without activated NK cells. Administration of activated NK cells resulted in significant GvT effects after allogeneic BMT as evidenced by increases in median survival and fewer lung metastasis. No evidence of GVHD was detected compared with recipients receiving spleen cells alone which also developed fewer lung metastases but in which all had succumbed to GVHD. Thus, our findings suggest that adoptive immunotherapy using activated donor NK cells combined with allogeneic BMT inhibits GvHD and promotes GvT in advanced tumor-bearing mice. These results also suggest that GvT and GvHD can be dissociable phenomena.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / immunology
  • Adenocarcinoma / therapy*
  • Adoptive Transfer
  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Transplantation / immunology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Graft vs Host Disease / mortality
  • Graft vs Host Disease / prevention & control*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Interleukin-2 / pharmacology
  • Intestines / immunology
  • Intestines / pathology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / transplantation*
  • Liver / immunology
  • Liver / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, SCID
  • Skin / immunology
  • Skin / pathology
  • Time Factors
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / immunology
  • Transplantation, Homologous


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Interleukin-2
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta