Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950)

NK cells are the crucial antitumor mediators when STAT3-mediated immunosuppression is blocked in hepatocellular carcinoma.

PMID 25015826


STAT3 is highly activated in a wide variety of cancers and functions to promote tumor survival. We previously reported that blocking STAT3 activation inhibited human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) growth in vitro, but whether this treatment also triggered antitumor immune responses in vivo remained unknown. In this study, we found that blocking the STAT3 pathway in HCC cells dramatically inhibited murine HCC growth in vivo and prolonged survival of tumor-bearing mice. Importantly, the presence of STAT3-blocked HCC augmented NK cell cytotoxicity against HCC and increased expression of molecules associated with NK cell activation and cytotoxicity. In T cell-deficient nude mice, a unique NK cell-mediated antitumor function against STAT3-blocked HCC was suggested. NK cells were shown to be necessary and sufficient in NK or T cell depletion experiments, or by adoptively transferring NK cells. Furthermore, regulatory T cells and immunosuppressive IL-10 and TGF-β cytokines were reduced in mice bearing STAT3-blocked HCC cells, suggesting that these factors may be involved in HCC-induced NK cell suppression. These findings indicate that blocking STAT3 in HCC cells can initiate innate immunity in vivo.