Engineered Three-Dimensional Tumor Models to Study Natural Killer Cell Suppression. Academic Article uri icon


  • A critical hurdle associated with natural killer (NK) cell immunotherapies is inadequate infiltration and function in the solid tumor microenvironment. Well-controlled 3D culture systems could advance our understanding of the role of various biophysical and biochemical cues that impact NK cell migration in solid tumors. The objectives of this study were to establish a biomaterial which (i) supports NK cell migration and (ii) recapitulates features of the in vivo solid tumor microenvironment, to study NK infiltration and function in a 3D system. Using peptide-functionalized poly(ethylene glycol)-based hydrogels, the extent of NK-92 cell migration was observed to be largely dependent on the density of integrin binding sites and the presence of matrix metalloproteinase degradable sites. When lung cancer cells were encapsulated into the hydrogels to create tumor microenvironments, the extent of NK-92 cell migration and functional activity was dependent on the cancer cell type and duration of 3D culture. NK-92 cells showed greater migration into the models consisting of nonmetastatic A549 cells relative to metastatic H1299 cells, and reduced migration in both models when cancer cells were cultured for 7 days versus 1 day. In addition, the production of NK cell-related pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines was reduced in H1299 models relative to A549 models. These differences in NK-92 cell migration and cytokine/chemokine production corresponded to differences in the production of various immunomodulatory molecules by the different cancer cells, namely, the H1299 models showed increased stress ligand shedding and immunosuppressive cytokine production, particularly TGF-. Indeed, inhibition of TGF- receptor I in NK-92 cells restored their infiltration in H1299 models to levels similar to that in A549 models and increased overall infiltration in both models. Relative to conventional 2D cocultures, NK-92 cell mediated cytotoxicity was reduced in the 3D tumor models, suggesting the hydrogel serves to mimic some features of the biophysical barriers in in vivo tumor microenvironments. This study demonstrates the feasibility of a synthetic hydrogel system for investigating the biophysical and biochemical cues impacting NK cell infiltration and NK cell-cancer cell interactions in the solid tumor microenvironment.

published proceedings

  • ACS Biomater Sci Eng

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Temples, M. N., Adjei, I. M., Nimocks, P. M., Djeu, J., & Sharma, B.

citation count

  • 8

complete list of authors

  • Temples, Madison N||Adjei, Isaac M||Nimocks, Phoebe M||Djeu, Julie||Sharma, Blanka

publication date

  • January 2020