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Adoptive transfer of donor NK cells has the potential of mediating graft-versus-leukemia (GVL) effect while suppressing acute graft-versus-host-disease (aGVHD) during allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HSCT). However, these beneficial effects are limited by transient function of adoptively transferred NK cells. Previous studies demonstrate that cytokine-induced memory-like NK cells that are preactivated by IL-12, IL-15, and IL-18 have enhanced effector functions and long life span in vivo. Here, we investigated the effects of IL-12/18-preactivated and IL-12/15/18-preactivated donor NK cells on GVL and aGVHD in a murine model of allo-HSCT. We generated IL-2-expanded murine NK cells from bone marrow cells and treated them with different combinations of cytokines. We found that both IL-12/18- and IL-12/15/18-preactivated NK cells mediated stronger GVL effect than control NK cells mainly due to their elevated activation/cytotoxicity and sustained proliferative potential. Interestingly, we observed that although both IL-12/18- and IL-12/15/18-preactivated NK cells significantly inhibited severe aGVHD, resulting in prolonged survival of host mice, only the IL-12/18-preactivated NK cells maintained the beneficial effect of donor NK cells on mild aGVHD. The IL-12/15/18-preactivated NK cell infusion accelerated aGVHD compared with the control NK cells in the fully-mismatched mild aGVHD model. Our results demonstrated that IL-12/18-preactivated NK cells displayed sustained and enhanced GVL functions, and could mitigate aGVHD despite the severity of the disease. IL-12/18-preactivated donor NK cell infusion may be an effective and safe adoptive therapy after allo-HSCT.

Song Y, Hu B, Liu Y, Jin Z, Zhang Y, Lin D, Zhu Y, Lei L, Gong H, Mei Y, Teo HY, Wu D and Liu H (2018) IL-12/IL-18-preactivated donor NK cells enhance GVL effects and mitigate GvHD after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Eur J Immunol. 2018 Apr; 48(4):670-682.