NK Cell-Mediated Eradication of Ovarian Cancer Cells with a Novel Chimeric Antigen Receptor Directed against CD44

Ovarian cancer is the most common cause of gynecological cancer-related death in the developed world. Disease recurrence and chemoresistance are major causes of poor survival rates in ovarian cancer patients. Ovarian cancer stem cells (CSCs) were shown to represent a source of tumor recurrence owing to the high resistance to chemotherapy and enhanced tumorigenicity. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-based adoptive immunotherapy represents a promising strategy to reduce the risk for recurrent disease. In this study, we developed a codon-optimized third-generation CAR to specifically target CD44, a marker widely expressed on ovarian cancer cells and associated with CSC-like properties and intraperitoneal tumor spread. We equipped NK-92 cells with the anti-CD44 CAR (CD44NK) and an anti-CD19 control CAR (CD19NK) using lentiviral SIN vectors. Compared to CD19NK and untransduced NK-92 cells, CD44NK showed potent and specific cytotoxic activity against CD44-positive ovarian cancer cell lines (SKOV3 and OVCAR3) and primary ovarian cancer cells harvested from ascites. In contrast, CD44NK had less cytotoxic activity against CD44-negative A2780 cells. Specific activation of engineered NK cells was also demonstrated by interferon-γ (IFNγ) secretion assays. Furthermore, CD44NK cells still demonstrated cytotoxic activity under cisplatin treatment. Most importantly, the simultaneous treatment with CD44NK and cisplatin showed higher anti-tumor activity than sequential treatment.


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