A novel immature natural killer cell subpopulation predicts relapse after cord blood transplantation

Li, L., Chen, H., Marin, D., et al.

Natural killer (NK) cells are highly heterogeneous, with vast phenotypic and functional diversity at the single-cell level. They are involved in the innate immune response against malignant and virus-infected cells. To understand the effect of NK diversity during immune recovery on the antitumor response after cord blood transplantation (CBT), we used high-dimensional mass cytometry and the metrics of NK cell diversity to study the NK cell repertoire in serial samples from 43 CBT recipients. A higher-diversity index based on single-cell combinatorial phenotypes was significantly associated with a lower risk for relapse after CBT (P = .005). Cytomegalovirus reactivation was a major factor in the development of a more diverse NK repertoire after CBT. Notably, we identified a group of patients whose CB-derived NK cells after transplantation possessed an immature phenotype (CB-NKim), characterized by poor effector function and a low diversity index. Frequencies of CB-NKim of 11.8% or higher during the early post-CBT recovery phase were highly predictive for relapse (area under the curve [AUC], 0.979), a finding that was validated in a second independent cohort of patients (n = 25; AUC, 0.977). Moreover, we showed that the maturation, diversity, and acquisition of effector function by CB-NKim early after CBT were driven by interleukin 15. Our data indicate that the diversity of the NK cell repertoire after CBT contributes importantly to the risk for subsequent relapse. We suggest that the use of diversity metrics and high-dimensional mass cytometry may be useful tools in predicting clinical outcomes and informing the design of therapeutic strategies to prevent relapse after CBT.


Li, L., Chen, H., Marin, D., et al. "A novel immature natural killer cell subpopulation predicts relapse after cord blood transplantation" Transplantation (2019): 4,117–4,130