While natural killer cells represent the first line of defense against most tumors and malignancies, their mechanism(s) of pathogen control has been difficult to understand. Recent work from the Krupnick, Brown, and Bullock laboratories sheds some light on pathways used by this cell population to control lung cancer. The work specifically describes that natural killer cells, once thought of as a static in nature, can adjust their surface phenotype for optimal tumor control, based on local environmental cues. Specifically in the tumor microenvironment, natural killer cells downregulate inhibitory receptors as a mechanism of increasing their cytotoxic potential to limit lung cancer growth.
“This work may set the stage for reprogramming the tumor microenvironment to mitigate growth of lung as well as other cancers” according to Tim Bullock, and “offers and increased understanding of natural killer cell plasticity” according to Michael Brown. This data sets a path for optimally arming this cell population for both treatment and immunoprevention of lung as well as other cancers. The work was supported by the Carter Immunology Center and the Cancer Center Team Science award and is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.