IL-21 enhances natural killer cell response to cetuximab-coated pancreatic tumor cells

Elizabeth L. McMichael, Alena Cristina Jaime-Ramirez, Kristan D. Guenterberg, Eric Luedke, Lakhvir S. Atwal, Amanda R. Campbell, Zhiwei Hu, Armika S. Tatum, Sri Vidya Kondadasula, Xiaokui Mo, Susheela Tridandapani, Mark Bloomston, E. Christopher Ellison, Terence M. Williams, Tanios Bekaii-Saab, William E. Carson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Purpose: Alternative strategies to EGFR blockage by mAbs is necessary to improve the efficacy of therapy in patients with locally advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer. One such strategy includes the use of NK cells to clear cetuximab-coated tumor cells, as need for novel therapeutic approaches to enhance the efficacy of cetuximab is evident. We show that IL-21 enhances NK cell-mediated effector functions against cetuximab-coated pancreatic tumor cells irrespective of KRAS mutation status. Experimental Design: NK cells from normal donors or donors with pancreatic cancer were used to assessADCC, IFN-γ release, and T-cell chemotaxis toward human pancreatic cancer cell lines. The in vivo efficacy of IL-21 in combination with cetuximab was evaluated in a subcutaneous and intraperitoneal model of pancreatic cancer. Results: NK cell lysis of cetuximab-coated wild-type and mutant kras pancreatic cancer cell lines were significantly higher following NK cell IL-21 treatment. In response to cetuximabcoated pancreatic tumor cells, IL-21-treated NK cells secreted significantly higher levels of IFN-γ and chemokines, increased chemotaxis of T cells, and enhanced NK cell signal transduction via activation of ERK and STAT1. Treatment of mice bearing subcutaneous or intraperitoneal EGFR-positive pancreatic tumor xenografts with mIL-21 and cetuximab led to significant inhibition of tumor growth, a result further enhanced by the addition of gemcitabine. Conclusions: These results suggest that cetuximab treatment in combination with IL-21 adjuvant therapy in patients with EGFR-positive pancreatic cancer results in significant NK cell activation, irrespective of KRAS mutation status, and may be a potential therapeutic strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-502
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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