Lack of anti-tumour reactivity despite enhanced numbers of circulating natural killer T cells in two patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma


Florry A. Vyth-Dreese, Division of Immunology, the Netherlands Cancer Institute, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital, Plesmanlaan 121, 1066 CX Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Natural killer T (NK T) cells play a central role as intermediates between innate and adaptive immune responses important to induce anti-tumour reactivity in cancer patients. In two of 14 renal cell carcinoma (RCC) patients, treated with interferon (IFN)-α, we detected significantly enhanced numbers of circulating NK T cells which were typed phenotypically and analysed for anti-tumour reactivity. These NK T cells were T cell receptor (TCR) Vα24/Vβ11+, 6B11+ and bound CD1d tetramers. No correlation was observed between NK T frequencies and regulatory T cells (Tregs), which were also enhanced. NK T cells expressed CD56, CD161, CD45RO and CD69 and were predominantly CD8+, in contrast to the circulating T cell pool that contained both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, as is found in healthy individuals. It is unlikely that IFN-α triggered the high NK T frequency, as all other patients expressed low to normal NK T numbers. A parallel was observed in IFN-α-related increase in activation of NK T cells with that in conventional T and non-T cells. Normal interleukin (IL)-7, IL-12 and IL-15 plasma levels were found. In one of the patients sporadic NK T cells were detected at the tumour site. α-Galactosylceramide (αGalCer) stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells or isolated NK T cell lines from both patients induced IFN-γ, but no IL-4 and no response towards autologous tumour cells or lysates. The clinical course of disease in both patients was not exceptional with regard to histological subtype and extent of metastatic disease. Therefore, despite a constitutive high peripheral frequency and in vitroαGalCer responsiveness, the NK T cells in the two RCC patients did not show anti-tumour responsiveness.