Memory-like differentiation enhances NK cell responses against colorectal cancer

Nancy D. Marin, Michelle Becker-Hapak, Wilbur M. Song, Quazim A. Alayo, Lynne Marsala, Naomi Sonnek, Melissa M. Berrien-Elliott, Mark Foster, Jennifer A. Foltz, Jennifer Tran, Pamela Wong, Celia C. Cubitt, Patrick Pence, Kimberly Hwang, Alice Y. Zhou, Miriam T. Jacobs, Timothy Schappe, David A. Russler-Germain, Ryan C. Fields, Matthew A. CiorbaTodd A. Fehniger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Metastatic (m) colorectal cancer (CRC) is an incurable disease with a poor prognosis and thus remains an unmet clinical need. Immune checkpoint blockade (ICB)-based immunotherapy is effective for mismatch repair-deficient (dMMR)/microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) mCRC patients, but it does not benefit the majority of mCRC patients. NK cells are innate lymphoid cells with potent effector responses against a variety of tumor cells but are frequently dysfunctional in cancer patients. Memory-like (ML) NK cells differentiated after IL-12/IL-15/IL-18 activation overcome many challenges to effective NK cell anti-tumor responses, exhibiting enhanced recognition, function, and in vivo persistence. We hypothesized that ML differentiation enhances the NK cell responses to CRC. Compared to conventional (c) NK cells, ML NK cells displayed increased IFN-γ production against both CRC cell lines and primary patient-derived CRC spheroids. ML NK cells also exhibited improved killing of CRC target cells in vitro in short-term and sustained cytotoxicity assays, as well as in vivo in NSG mice. Mechanistically, enhanced ML NK cell responses were dependent on the activating receptor NKG2D as its blockade significantly decreased ML NK cell functions. Compared to cNK cells, ML NK cells exhibited greater antibody-dependent cytotoxicity when targeted against CRC by cetuximab. ML NK cells from healthy donors and mCRC patients exhibited increased anti-CRC responses. Collectively, our findings demonstrate that ML NK cells exhibit enhanced responses against CRC targets, warranting further investigation in clinical trials for mCRC patients, including those who have failed ICB.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2348254
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024


  • Cetuximab
  • NK cells
  • colorectal cancer
  • cytokines
  • immunotherapy


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