Research Papers:

Fas ligand and lytic granule differentially control cytotoxic dynamics of natural killer cell against cancer target

Yanting Zhu, Bo Huang and Jue Shi _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:47163-47172. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.9980

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Yanting Zhu1, Bo Huang2, Jue Shi1

1Center for Quantitative Systems Biology, Department of Physics and Department of Biology, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, China

2School of Physics, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China

Correspondence to:

Jue Shi, email: [email protected]

Keywords: immune-cancer cell interaction, natural killer cell, single cell dynamics, immunotherapy, cytotoxic lymphocyte

Received: February 11, 2016     Accepted: May 12, 2016     Published: June 13, 2016


Interaction dynamics between Natural Killer (NK) cells and cancer targets have been the topic of many previous investigations, but the underlying rate-limiting kinetics and heterogeneity remain poorly understood. In this study, using quantitative single cell microscopy assay, we elucidate the differential dynamic control of NK-cancer cell interaction by multiple cytotoxic pathways. We found primary human NK cell, unlike NK cell line, killed adherent cancer target mainly by lytic granule-independent mechanism, in particular through Fas ligand (FasL). And the distinct kinetics of FasL and lytic granule pathway resulted in significant cell-to-cell variability. Killing by FasL occurred slowly, requiring transient, often multiple NK-cancer cell conjugations that gradually activated caspase-8, while lytic granule triggered rapid cytotoxicity by a switch-like induction of granzyme-B upon a single, prolonged conjugation. Moreover, interleukin 2 was observed to enhance both cytotoxic mechanisms by promoting target recognition by NK cell and increasing NK-cancer cell interaction frequency. Our results not only identify the key points of variation in the rate-limiting kinetics of NK-cancer cell cytotoxic interaction but also point to the importance of non-lytic granule mechanism for developing NK cell therapy.

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