Three-dimensional culture models to study innate anti-tumor immune response: Advantages and Disadvantages

Alessandro Poggi, Federico Villa, Jordi Leonardo Castrillo Fernadez, Delfina Costa, Maria Raffaella Zocchi, Roberto Benelli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Several approaches have shown that the immune response against tumors strongly affects patients’ clinical outcome. Thus, the study of anti-tumor immunity is critical to understand and potentiate the mechanisms underlying the elimination of tumor cells. Natural killer (NK) cells are members of innate immunity and represent powerful anti-tumor effectors, able to eliminate tumor cells without a previous sensitization. Thus, the study of their involvement in anti-tumor responses is critical for clinical translation. This analysis has been performed in vitro, co-incubating NK with tumor cells and quantifying the cytotoxic activity of NK cells. In vivo confirmation has been applied to overcome the limits of in vitro testing, however, the innate immunity of mice and humans is different, leading to discrepancies. Different activating receptors on NK cells and counter-ligands on tumor cells are involved in the antitumor response, and innate immunity is strictly dependent on the specific microenvironment where it takes place. Thus, three-dimensional (3D) culture systems, where NK and tumor cells can interact in a tissue-like architecture, have been created. For example, tumor cell spheroids and primary organoids derived from several tumor types, have been used so far to analyze innate immune response, replacing animal models. Herein, we briefly introduce NK cells and analyze and discuss in detail the properties of 3D tumor culture systems and their use for the study of tumor cell interactions with NK cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3417
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2 2021


  • Alternative culture methods
  • Immune response
  • Innate immunity
  • NK cells
  • Organoids
  • Spheroids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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