Haploidentical haematopoietic stem cell transplantation: Role of NK cells and effect of cytomegalovirus infections

Mariella Della Chiesa, Lorenzo Moretta, Letizia Muccio, Alice Bertaina, Francesca Moretta, Franco Locatelli, Alessandro Moretta

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Natural killer cells play an important role in the immune responses against cancer and viral infections. In addition, NK cells have been shown to exert a key role in haploidentical hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation for the therapy of high-risk leukemias. The anti-leukemia effect is mostly related to the presence of “alloreactive” NK cells, i.e., mature KIR+ NK cells that express inhibitory KIR mismatched with HLA class I (KIR-L) of the patient. In addition, an important role is played by certain activating KIR (primarily, but not only, KIR2DS1) upon interaction with their HLA class I ligand (C2 alleles). In general, the presence of activating KIR correlates with a better prognosis. Beside the infusion of “pure” CD34+ cells, a novel protocol has been recently developed in which depletion of αβ T cells and CD19+ B cells makes it possible to infuse into the patient, together with donor CD34+ HSCs, important effector cells including mature PB NK cells and γδ T cells. Recent studies revealed that cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection/reactivation may induce rapid NK cell maturation and greatly influence the NK receptor repertoire. The remarkable expansion of a subset expressing the activating receptor NKG2C, together with a more efficient virus-specific effector response after rechallenge with CMV (i.e., antigen specificity), and the longevity of the expanded population are all features consistent with an adaptive type of response and support the notion of a memory-like activity of NK cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-224
Number of pages16
JournalCurrent Topics in Microbiology and Immunology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology


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