Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients with reduced natural killer (NK)–cell numbers and function have been shown to have a poor disease outcome. Mechanisms underlying NK-cell deficiency and dysfunction in HCC patients remain largely unresolved. α-Fetoprotein (AFP) is an oncofetal antigen produced by HCC. Previous studies demonstrated that tumor-derived AFP (tAFP) can indirectly impair NK-cell activity by suppressing dendritic cell function. However, a direct tAFP effect on NK cells remains unexplored. The purpose of this study was to examine the ability of cord blood-derived AFP (nAFP) and that of tAFP to directly modulate human NK-cell activity and longevity in vitro. Short-term exposure to tAFP and, especially, nAFP proteins induced a unique proinflammatory, IL2-hyperresponsive phenotype in NK cells as measured by IL1β, IL6, and TNF secretion, CD69 upregulation, and enhanced tumor cell killing. In contrast, extended coculture with tAFP, but not nAFP, negatively affected long-term NK-cell viability. NK-cell activation was directly mediated by the AFP protein itself, whereas their viability was affected by hydrophilic components within the low molecular mass cargo that copurified with tAFP. Identification of the distinct impact of circulating tAFP on NK-cell function and viability may be crucial to developing a strategy to ameliorate HCC patient NK-cell functional deficits. Cancer Immunol Res; 5(6); 1–10. ©2017 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Cancer Immunology Research Online (http://cancerimmunolres.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received August 22, 2016.
- Revision received March 22, 2017.
- Accepted April 28, 2017.
- ©2017 American Association for Cancer Research.