Cancer immunology research

Granulin-epithelin precursor renders hepatocellular carcinoma cells resistant to natural killer cytotoxicity.

PMID 25315249


Immunoevasion is an emerging hallmark of cancer. Impairment of natural killer (NK) cytotoxicity is a mechanism to evade host immunosurveillance. Granulin-epithelin precursor (GEP) is a hepatic oncofetal protein regulating growth, invasion, and chemoresistance in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We examined the role of GEP in conferring HCC cells the ability to evade NK cytotoxicity. In HCC cell lines, GEP overexpression reduced, whereas GEP suppression enhanced sensitivity to NK cytotoxicity. GEP downregulated surface expression of MHC class I chain-related molecule A (MICA), ligand for NK stimulatory receptor NK group 2 member D (NKG2D), and upregulated human leukocyte antigen-E (HLA-E), ligand for NK inhibitory receptor CD94/NKG2A. Functionally, GEP augmented production of soluble MICA, which suppressed NK activation. Matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)2 and MMP9 activity was involved partly in the GEP-regulated MICA shedding from HCC cells. In primary HCCs (n = 80), elevated GEP (P < 0.001), MICA (P < 0.001), and HLA-E (P = 0.089) expression was observed when compared with those in nontumor (n = 80) and normal livers (n = 10). Serum GEP (P = 0.010) and MICA (P < 0.001) levels were higher in patients with HCC (n = 80) than in healthy individuals (n = 30). High serum GEP and/or MICA levels were associated with poor recurrence-free survival (log-rank test, P = 0.042). Importantly, GEP blockade by mAbs sensitized HCC cells to NK cytotoxicity through MICA. In summary, GEP rendered HCC cells resistant to NK cytotoxicity by modulating MICA expression, which could be reversed by GEP blockade using antibody. Serum GEP and MICA levels are prognostic factors and can be used to stratify patients for targeted therapy.