Elevated TGF-β1 secretion and down-modulation of NKG2D underlies impaired NK cytotoxicity in cancer patients

June Chul Lee, Kyung Mi Lee, Dong Wan Kim, Dae Seog Heo

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423 Citations (Scopus)


NK cell function in cancer patients is severely impaired, but the mechanism underlying this impairment is not clearly understood. In this study we show evidence that TGF-β1 secreted by tumors is responsible for the poor NK lytic activity via down-regulating an NK-activating receptor, NKG2D. The plasma level of TGF-β1 in human lung cancer or colorectal cancer patients was elevated compared with that in normal volunteers, and this elevation was inversely correlated with surface expression of NKG2D on NK cells in these patients. Incubation of NK cells with plasma obtained from cancer patients specifically down-modulated surface NKG2D expression, whereas addition of neutralizing anti-TGF-β1 mAbs completely restored surface NKG2D expression. Likewise, incubation of NK cells and lymphokine-activated killer cells with TGF-β1 resulted in dramatic reduction of surface NKG2D expression associated with impaired NK cytotoxicity. Modulation of NKG2D by TGF-β1 was specific, as expression of other NK receptors, CD94/NKG2A, CD44, CD16, 2B4, or CD56, was not affected by TGF-β1. Impaired NK cytotoxicity by TGF-β1 was not due to alteration of lytic moieties, such as perforin or Fas, or apoptotic pathway, but, rather, appeared to be due to lack of NKG2D expression. Taken together, our data suggest that impaired NK function in cancer patients can be attributed to down-modulation of activating receptors, such as NKG2D, via secretion of TGF-β1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7335-7340
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2004 Jun 15

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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