Background Due to their powerful immune surveillance activity and ability to kill and clear cancer cells, natural killer (NK) cells are an emerging anticancer immunotherapeutic agent. Therefore, there is much interest in developing efficient technologies that further enhance the therapeutic antitumor efficacy of NK cells.
Methods To produce chemically primed NK cells, we screened polymers with various electric charges and examined their ability to enhance the cytotoxicity of NK cells. The effect of primary amine and electric charges of 25 kDa branched polyethylenimine (25KbPEI) was investigated by fluorination of the chemical. The role of 25KbPEI in determining the major priming mechanism was investigated in terms of calcium influx into NK cells. In vivo therapeutic efficacy of chemically primed NK cells was evaluated against solid tumor mouse model of triple negative breast and ovarian cancers.
Results Chem_NK that was produced by the priming activity of 25KbPEI showed potent antitumor activity to various cancer cells. Chem_NK showed an activated phenotype, which manifests as increased expression of activating/adhesion/chemokine receptors and perforin accumulation, leading to enhanced migration ability and antitumor activity. Chem_NK display potent therapeutic efficacy against in vivo mouse model of triple negative breast and ovarian cancers. Fluorination of the primary amine group reduces the activity of 25KbPEI to prime NK cells, indicating that the cationic charge on the chemical plays a critical role in NK cell activation. A major priming mechanism was 25KbPEI-mediated calcium influx into NK cells, which occurred mainly via the Ca2+-permeable non-selective cation channel transient receptor potential melastatin 2.
Conclusions NK cells can be chemically primed with 25KbPEI to express potent antitumor activity as well as enhanced migration ability. Because PEI is a biocompatible and Food and Drug Administration-approved chemical for biomedical use, these results suggest a cost-effective and simple method of producing therapeutic NK cells.