Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology

, Volume 144, Issue 7, pp 1279–1288 | Cite as

hIL-15-gene modified human natural killer cells (NKL-IL15) exhibit anti-human leukemia functions

  • Wen Jiang
  • Cai Zhang
  • Zhigang Tian
  • Jian Zhang
Original Article – Cancer Research



Natural killer (NK) cells can kill transformed cells and represent anti-tumor activities for improving the immunotherapy of cancer. In previous works, we established human interleukin-15 (hIL-15) gene-modified NKL cells (NKL-IL15) and demonstrated their efficiency against human hepatocarcinoma cells (HCCs) in vitro and in vivo. To further assess the applicability of NKL-IL15 cells in adoptive cellular immunotherapy for human leukemia, here we report their natural cytotoxicity against leukemia in vitro and in vivo.


Flow cytometry, ELISA and MTT methods were performed for molecular expression, cell proliferation and cytotoxicity assays. Leukemia xenograft NOD/SCID mice were established by subcutaneous injection with K562 cells, and then treated with irradiated NKL cells.


We found NKL-IL15 cells displayed a significant high cytolysis activity against both human leukemia cell lines and primary leukemia cells from patients, accompanied with up-regulated expression of molecules related to NK cell cytotoxicity such as perforin, granzyme B and NKp80. Moreover, cytokines secreted by NKL-IL15 cells, including TNF-α and IFN-γ, could induce the expression of NKG2D ligands on target cells, which increased the susceptibility of leukemia cells to NK cell-mediated cytolysis. Encouragingly, NKL-IL15 cells significantly inhibited the growth of leukemia cells in xenografted NOD/SCID mice and prolonged the survival of tumor-bearing mice dramatically. Furthermore, NKL-IL15 cells displayed stimulatory effects on hPBMCs, indicating the immunesuppressive status of leukemia patients could be improved by NKL-IL15 cell treatment.


These results provided evidence that IL-15 gene-modification could augment NK cell-mediated anti-human leukemia function, which would improve primary NK cell-based immunotherapy for leukemia in future.


NK cell Interleukin 15 Gene modification Leukemia 



This work was supported by Grants from National Basic Research Program of China (No. 2013CB531503), National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 81172789, 30972692).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Medical Ethics Committee of Shandong University and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of Shandong University.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants and the parents of minor participant included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Immunopharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmaceutical SciencesShandong UniversityJinanChina

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