We examined the potential value of the natural killer (NK) cell line; NK-92, as immunotherapy tool for breast cancer (BC) treatment and searched for biomarker(s) of sensitivity to NK-92-mediated cytotoxicity. The cytotoxic activity of NK-92 cells towards one breast precancerous and nine BC cell lines was analyzed using calcein-AM and degranulation assays. The molecules associated with NK-92-responsiveness were determined by differential gene expression analysis using RNA-sequencing and validated by RT-PCR, immunostaining and flow cytometry. NK-target interactions and immunological synapse formation were assessed by fluorescence microscopy. Potential biomarker expression was determined by IHC in 99 patient-derived BC tissues and 10 normal mammary epithelial tissues. Most (8/9) BC cell lines were resistant while only one BC and the precancerous cell lines were effectively killed by NK-92 lymphocytes. NK-92-sensitive target cells specifically expressed CD56, which ectopic expression in CD56-negative BC cells induced their sensitivity to NK-92-mediated killing, suggesting that CD56 is not only a biomarker of responsiveness but actively regulates NK function. CD56 adhesion molecules which are also expressed on NK cells accumulate at the immunological synapse enhancing NK-target interactions, cytotoxic granzyme B transfer from NK-92 to CD56-expressing target cells and induction of caspase 3 activation in targets. Interestingly, CD56 expression was found to be reduced in breast tumor tissues (36%) with strong inter- and intratumoral heterogeneity in comparison to normal breast tissues (80%). CD56 is a potential predictive biomarker for BC responsiveness to NK-92-cell based immunotherapy and loss of CD56 expression might be a mechanism of escape from NK-immunity.
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