Hitting More Birds with a Stone: Impact of TGF-β on ILC Activity in Cancer

Cinzia Fionda, Helena Stabile, Cristina Cerboni, Alessandra Soriani, Angela Gismondi, Marco Cippitelli, Angela Santoni

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Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β is a central immunosuppressive cytokine within tumor microenvironment inhibiting the expansion and function of major cellular components of adaptive and innate immune system. Among them, compelling evidence has demonstrated that TGF-β is a key regulator of natural killer (NK) cells, innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) with a critical role in immunosurveillance against different kinds of cancer cells. A TGF-β rich tumor microenvironment blocks NK cell activity at multiple levels. This immunosuppressive factor exerts direct regulatory effects on NK cells including inhibition of cytokine production, alteration of activating/inhibitory receptor expression, and promotion of the conversion into non cytotoxic group I ILC (ILC1). Concomitantly, TGF-β can render tumor cells less susceptible to NK cell-mediated recognition and lysis. Indeed, accumulating evidence suggest that changes in levels of NKG2D ligands, mainly MICA, as well as an increase of immune checkpoint inhibitors (e.g., PD-L1) and other inhibitory ligands on cancer cells significantly contribute to TGF-β-mediated suppression of NK cell activity. Here, we will take into consideration two major mechanisms underlying the negative regulation of ILC function by TGF-β in cancer. First, we will address how TGF-β impacts the balance of signals governing NK cell activity. Second, we will review recent advances on the role of this cytokine in driving ILC plasticity in cancer. Finally, we will discuss how the development of therapeutic approaches blocking TGF-β may reverse the suppression of host immune surveillance and improve anti-tumor NK cell response in the clinic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143
JournalJournal of Clinical Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 5 2020


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