Hypoxia Modifies the Transcriptome of Human NK Cells, Modulates Their Immunoregulatory Profile, and Influences NK Cell Subset Migration

Monica Parodi, Federica Raggi, Davide Cangelosi, Claudia Manzini, Mirna Balsamo, Fabiola Blengio, Alessandra Eva, Luigi Varesio, Gabriella Pietra, Lorenzo Moretta, Maria Cristina Mingari, Massimo Vitale, Maria Carla Bosco

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Hypoxia, which characterizes most tumor tissues, can alter the function of different immune cell types, favoring tumor escape mechanisms. In this study, we show that hypoxia profoundly acts on NK cells by influencing their transcriptome, affecting their immunoregulatory functions, and changing the chemotactic responses of different NK cell subsets. Exposure of human peripheral blood NK cells to hypoxia for 16 or 96 h caused significant changes in the expression of 729 or 1,100 genes, respectively. Gene Set Enrichment Analysis demonstrated that these changes followed a consensus hypoxia transcriptional profile. As assessed by Gene Ontology annotation, hypoxia-targeted genes were implicated in several biological processes: metabolism, cell cycle, differentiation, apoptosis, cell stress, and cytoskeleton organization. The hypoxic transcriptome also showed changes in genes with immunological relevance including those coding for proinflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and chemokine-receptors. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis confirmed the modulation of several immune-related genes, prompting further immunophenotypic and functional studies. Multiplex ELISA demonstrated that hypoxia could variably reduce NK cell ability to release IFNγ, TNFα, GM-CSF, CCL3, and CCL5 following PMA+Ionomycin or IL15+IL18 stimulation, while it poorly affected the response to IL12+IL18. Cytofluorimetric analysis showed that hypoxia could influence NK chemokine receptor pattern by sustaining the expression of CCR7 and CXCR4. Remarkably, this effect occurred selectively (CCR7) or preferentially (CXCR4) on CD56bright NK cells, which indeed showed higher chemotaxis to CCL19, CCL21, or CXCL12. Collectively, our data suggest that the hypoxic environment may profoundly influence the nature of the NK cell infiltrate and its effects on immune-mediated responses within tumor tissues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2358
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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