The proangiogenic phenotype of natural killer cells in patients with non-small cell lung cancer

Antonino Bruno, Chiara Focaccetti, Arianna Pagani, Andrea S. Imperatori, Marco Spagnoletti, Nicola Rotolo, Anna Rita Cantelmo, Francesca Franzi, Carlo Capella, Guido Ferlazzo, Lorenzo Mortara, Adriana Albini, Douglas M. Noonan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The tumor microenvironment can polarize innate immune cells to a proangiogenic phenotype. Decidual natural killer (dNK) cells show an angiogenic phenotype, yet the role for NK innate lymphoid cells in tumor angiogenesis remains to be defined. We investigated NK cells from patients with surgically resected non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and controls using flow cytometric and functional analyses. The CD56+CD16- NK subset in NSCLC patients, which represents the predominant NK subset in tumors and a minor subset in adjacent lung and peripheral blood, was associated with vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), placental growth factor (PIGF), and interleukin-8 (IL-8)/CXCL8 production. Peripheral blood CD56+CD16- NK cells from patients with the squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) subtype showed higher VEGF and PlGF production compared to those from patients with adenocarcinoma (AdC) and controls. Higher IL-8 production was found for both SCC and AdC compared to controls. Supernatants derived from NSCLC CD56+CD16- NK cells induced endothelial cell chemotaxis and formation of capillary-like structures in vitro, particularly evident in SCC patients and absent from controls. Finally, exposure to transforming growth factor-β1 (TGFβ1), a cytokine associated with dNK polarization, upregulated VEGF and PlGF in peripheral blood CD56+CD16- NK cells from healthy subjects. Our data suggest that NK cells in NSCLC act as proangiogenic cells, particularly evident for SCC and in part mediated by TGFβ1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-142
Number of pages10
JournalNeoplasia (United States)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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