Overexpression of IL-15 promotes tumor destruction via NK1.1+ cells in a spontaneous breast cancer model
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BACKGROUND: Natural Killer (NK) cells play an important role in tumor prevention, but once tumors form, the numbers as well as the cytotoxic functions of NK cells are reduced. IL-15 is a cytokine that increases and activates NK cells. Here we will examine the anti-tumor role of IL-15 in a spontaneous breast cancer model. METHODS: To achieve this, Polyoma Middle T (MT) mice that form spontaneous breast cancer were crossed with mice that either overexpress IL-15 (IL-15 transgenic (TG)) or mice that lack IL-15 (IL-15 knockout (KO)). We compared survival curves and tumor formation in IL-15 KO/MT, MT and IL-15 TG/MT groups. In addition, the phenotype, activation and contribution of NK cells and CD8 T cells to tumor formation were examined in each of these mouse strains via flow cytometry, ELISA, adoptive transfer and antibody depletion experiments. RESULTS: IL-15KO/MT tumors formed and progressed to endpoint more quickly than MT tumors. These tumors displayed little apoptosis and poor CD8 T cell infiltration. In contrast, IL-15 TG/MT mice had increased survival and the tumors displayed extensive cell death, high proportions of activated NK cells and a higher infiltration of CD8 T cells than MT tumors. CD8 T cells in IL-15 TG/MT tumors were capable of secreting IFNγ, possessed markers of memory, did not display an exhausted phenotype and were frequently NK1.1+. Long-term antibody depletion studies in IL-15 TG/MT mice revealed that NK1.1+, but not CD8 T cells, were critical for tumor destruction. Lastly, human NK cells, when exposed to a similar cytokine environment as that found in IL-15TG/MT tumors, were capable of killing human breast cancer cells. CONCLUSIONS: This study reveals that high levels of IL-15 can promote tumor destruction and reduce metastasis in breast cancer via effects on NK1.1+ cells. Our results suggest that strategies aimed at increasing NK cell activation may be effective against solid epithelial cancers.
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