Innate and adaptive immune responses have many interactions that are regulated by the balance of signals initiated by a variety of activatory and inhibitory receptors. Among these, the NKG2D molecule was identified as expressed by T lymphocytes, including most CD8+ cells and a minority of CD4+ cells, designated TNK cells in this paper. Tumor cells may overexpress the stress-inducible NKG2D ligands (NKG2DLs: MICA/B, ULBPs) and the NKG2D signaling has been shown to be involved in lymphocyte-mediated anti-tumor activity. Aberrant expression of NKG2DLs by cancer cells, such as the release of soluble form of NKG2DLs, can lead to the impairment of these immune responses. Here, we discuss the significance of NKG2D in TNK-mediated anti-tumor activity. Our studies demonstrate that NKG2D+ T cells (TNK) are commonly recruited at the tumor site in melanoma patients where they may exert anti-tumor activity by engaging both TCR and NKG2D. Moreover, NKG2D and TCR triggering was also observed by peripheral blood derived T lymphocyte- or T cell clone-mediated tumor recognition, both in melanoma and colorectal cancer (CRC) patients. Notably, heterogeneous expression of NKG2DLs was found in melanoma and CRC cells, with a decrease of these molecules along with tumor progression. Therefore, through the mechanisms that govern NKG2D engagement in anti-tumor activity and the expression of NKG2DLs by tumor cells that still need to be dissected, we showed that NKG2D expressing TNK cells are a relevant T cell subtype for immunosurveillance of tumors and we propose that new immunotherapeutic interventions for cancer patients should be aimed also at enhancing NKG2DLs expression by tumor cells.
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