Depressed levels of granular lymphocytes with natural killer (NK) cell function in 247 cancer patients

C. M. Balch, A. B. Tilden, P. A. Dougherty, G. A. Cloud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


The HNK-1 (Leu-7) monoclonal antibody was used to enumerate and characterize the level of blood granular lymphocytes in 247 cancer patients. The results were compared to 146 control individuals. A fluorescence-activated cell sorter was used to purify blood HNK-1+ cells from cancer patients. The monoclonal antibody identified a homogeneous population of granular lymphocytes with greater than 95% purity. Conversely, virtually 100% of HNK-1- cells from cancer patients were agranular lymphocytes. These results were the same as previously observed in normal individuals, where the HNK-1+ cell fraction contained all the lymphocytes with spontaneous cytotoxicity in natural killer (NK) and killer (K) cell assays. The level of HNK-1+ cells in cancer patients correlated significantly with the patient's age and sex, with older individuals having higher levels and male patients containing a higher proportion than female patients. The levels in the cancer patients were significantly lower than normal controls (p = 0.04). When the results were subdivided by the histologic type of cancer, additional differences were noted. Compared to age and sex-matched controls, significantly depressed levels of HNK-1+ granular lymphocytes were observed in 49 patients with colon cancer (9.7% vs. 15.8%, p = 0.0001), 18 patients with lung carcinoma (11.7% vs. 27.0%, p = 0.0001), 24 patients with breast carcinoma (12.0% vs. 15.5%, p = 0.04) and 64 patients with head and neck carcinoma (15.9% vs. 19.1%, p = 0.05). However, there were no significant differences overall in the average HNK-1+ cell level of 66 patients with melanoma (13.0% vs. 13.5%, p = 0.75) and nine patients with sarcomas (15.8% vs. 14.3%, p = 0.71). Thus, this important subpopulation of granular lymphocytes with NK and K cell function was significantly depressed in most cancer patients. Accounting for the patient's age and sex and the histologic type of cancer was critical to interpreting the results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-199
Number of pages8
JournalUnknown Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1983
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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