Control of Tumor Initiation by NKG2D Naturally Expressed on Ovarian Cancer Cells.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.), Volume 19, Issue 6, p.471-482 (2017)


Cancer cells may co-opt the NKG2D lymphocyte receptor to complement the presence of its ligands for autonomous stimulation of oncogenic signaling. Previous studies raise the possibility that cancer cell NKG2D may induce high malignancy traits, but its full oncogenic impact is unknown. Using epithelial ovarian cancer as model setting, we show here that ex vivo NKG2D(+) cancer cells have stem-like capacities, and provide formal in vivo evidence linking NKG2D stimulation with the development and maintenance of these functional states. NKG2D(+) ovarian cancer cell populations harbor substantially greater capacities for self-renewing in vitro sphere formation and in vivo tumor initiation in immunodeficient (NOD scid gamma) mice than NKG2D(-) controls. Sphere formation and tumor initiation are impaired by NKG2D silencing or ligand blockade using antibodies or a newly designed pan ligand-masking NKG2D multimer. In further support of pathophysiological significance, a prospective study of 47 high-grade serous ovarian cancer cases revealed that the odds of disease recurrence were significantly greater and median progression-free survival rates higher among patients with above and below median NKG2D(+) cancer cell frequencies, respectively. Collectively, our results define cancer cell NKG2D as an important regulator of tumor initiation in ovarian cancer and presumably other malignancies and thus challenge current efforts in immunotherapy aimed at enhancing NKG2D function.