Natural killer cell responses in hepatocellular carcinoma: Implications for novel immunotherapeutic approaches

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Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) still represents a significant complication of chronic liver disease, particularly when cirrhosis ensues. Current treatment options include surgery, loco-regional procedures and chemotherapy, according to specific clinical practice guidelines. Immunotherapy with check-point inhibitors, aimed at rescuing T-cells from exhaustion, has been applied as second-line therapy with limited and variable success. Natural killer (NK) cells are an essential component of innate immunity against cancer and changes in phenotype and function have been described in patients with HCC, who also show perturbations of NK activating receptor/ligand axes. Here we discuss the current status of NK cell treatment of HCC on the basis of existing evidence and ongoing clinical trials on adoptive transfer of autologous or allogeneic NK cells ex vivo or after activation with cytokines such as IL-15 and use of antibodies to target cell-expressed molecules to promote antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC). To this end, bi-, tri- and tetra-specific killer cell engagers are being devised to improve NK cell recognition of tumor cells, circumventing tumor immune escape and efficiently targeting NK cells to tumors. Moreover, the exciting technique of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-engineered NK cells offers unique opportunities to create CAR-NK with multiple specificities along the experience gained with CAR-T cells with potentially less adverse effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number926
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Immunotherapy
  • MICA/B
  • Natural killer cells
  • NKG2D

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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