Cancer treatment and the KIR–HLA system: an overview

Patrizia Leone, Valli De Re, Angelo Vacca, Franco Dammacco, Vito Racanelli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Accumulating evidence indicates that the success of cancer therapy depends not only on a combination of adequate procedures (surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy) that aim to eliminate all tumor cells, but also on the functional state of the host immune system. HLA and KIR molecules, in particular, are critical to the interactions between tumor cells and both innate and adaptive immune cells such as NK cells and T cells. Different KIR–HLA gene combinations as well as different HLA expression levels on tumor cells associate with variable tumor prognosis and response to treatment. On the other hand, different therapies have different effects on HLA molecules and immune cell functions regulated by these molecules. Here, we provide an overview of the KIR–HLA system, a description of its alterations with clinical relevance in diverse tumor types, and an analysis of the consequences that conventional cancer therapies may have on it. We also discuss how this knowledge can be exploited to identify potential immunological biomarkers that can help to select patients for tailored therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-429
Number of pages11
JournalClinical and Experimental Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Cancer treatment
  • HLA
  • KIR
  • NK cells
  • T cells
  • Tumor immune evasion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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