PD-L1 targeting high-affinity NK (t-haNK) cells induce direct antitumor effects and target suppressive MDSC populations

Kellsye P. Fabian, Michelle R. Padget, Renee N. Donahue, Kristen Solocinski, Yvette Robbins, Clint T. Allen, John H. Lee, Shahrooz Rabizadeh, Patrick Soon-Shiong, Jeffrey Schlom, James W. Hodge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background Although immune checkpoint inhibitors have revolutionized cancer treatment, clinical benefit with this class of agents has been limited to a subset of patients. Hence, more effective means to target tumor cells that express immune checkpoint molecules should be developed. For the first time, we report a novel natural killer (NK) cell line, programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) targeting high-affinity natural killer (t-haNK), which was derived from NK-92 and was engineered to express high-affinity CD16, endoplasmic reticulum-retained interleukin (IL)-2, and a PD-L1-specific chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). We show that PD-L1 t-haNK cells also retained the expression of native NK receptors and carried a high content of granzyme and perforin granules. Methods NanoString, flow cytometry, and immunofluorescence analyses were performed to characterize the phenotype of irradiated PD-L1 t-haNK cells. In vitro PD-L1 t-haNK cell activity against cancer cell lines and human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) was determined via flow-based and 111 In-release killing assays. The antitumor effect of PD-L1 t-haNK cells in vivo was investigated using MDA-MB-231, H460, and HTB1 xenograft models in NOD-scid IL2Rgamma null (NSG) mice. Additionally, the antitumor effect of PD-L1 t-haNK cells, in combination with anti-PD-1 and N-803, an IL-15 superagonist, was evaluated using mouse oral cancer 1 syngeneic model in C57BL/6 mice. Results We show that PD-L1 t-haNK cells expressed PD-L1-targeting CAR and CD16, retained the expression of native NK receptors, and carried a high content of granzyme and perforin granules. In vitro, we demonstrate the ability of irradiated PD-L1 t-haNK cells to lyse 20 of the 20 human cancer cell lines tested, including triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) and lung, urogenital, and gastric cancer cells. The cytotoxicity of PD-L1 t-haNK cells was correlated to the PD-L1 expression of the tumor targets and can be improved by pretreating the targets with interferon (IFN)-Î 3. In vivo, irradiated PD-L1 t-haNK cells inhibited the growth of engrafted TNBC and lung and bladder tumors in NSG mice. The combination of PD-L1 t-haNK cells with N-803 and anti-PD-1 antibody resulted in superior tumor growth control of engrafted oral cavity squamous carcinoma tumors in C57BL/6 mice. In addition, when cocultured with human PBMCs, PD-L1 t-haNK cells preferentially lysed the myeloid-derived suppressor cell population but not other immune cell types. Conclusion These studies demonstrate the antitumor efficacy of PD-L1 t-haNK cells and provide a rationale for the potential use of these cells in clinical studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere000450
JournalJournal for immunotherapy of cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 20 2020


  • immunology
  • oncology
  • tumors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cancer Research


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