Therapeutic Inducers of Natural Killer cell Killing (ThINKK): preclinical assessment of safety and efficacy in allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant settings

May, 05, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) remains the standard of care for chemotherapy-refractory leukemia patients, but cure rates are still dismal. To prevent leukemia relapse following HSCT, we aim to improve the early graft-versus-leukemia effect mediated by natural killer (NK) cells. Our approach is based on the adoptive transfer of Therapeutic Inducers of Natural Killer cell Killing (ThINKK). ThINKK are expanded and differentiated from HSC, and exhibit blood plasmacytoid dendritic cell (pDC) features. We previously demonstrated that ThINKK stimulate NK cells and control acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) development in a preclinical mouse model of HSCT for ALL. Here, we assessed the cellular identity of ThINKK and investigated their potential to activate allogeneic T cells. We finally evaluated the effect of immunosuppressive drugs on ThINKK-NK cell interaction.


ThINKK cellular identity was explored using single-cell RNA sequencing and flow cytometry. Their T-cell activating potential was investigated by coculture of allogeneic T cells and antigen-presenting cells in the presence or the absence of ThINKK. A preclinical human-to-mouse xenograft model was used to evaluate the impact of ThINKK injections on graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). Finally, the effect of immunosuppressive drugs on ThINKK-induced NK cell cytotoxicity against ALL cells was tested.


The large majority of ThINKK shared the key characteristics of canonical blood pDC, including potent type-I interferon (IFN) production following Toll-like receptor stimulation. A minor subset expressed some, although not all, markers of other dendritic cell populations. Importantly, while ThINKK were not killed by allogeneic T or NK cells, they did not increase T cell proliferation induced by antigen-presenting cells nor worsened GvHD in vivo. Finally, tacrolimus, sirolimus or mycophenolate did not decrease ThINKK-induced NK cell activation and cytotoxicity.


Our results indicate that ThINKK are type I IFN producing cells with low T cell activation capacity. Therefore, ThINKK adoptive immunotherapy is not expected to increase the risk of GvHD after allogeneic HSCT. Furthermore, our data predict that the use of tacrolimus, sirolimus or mycophenolate as anti-GvHD prophylaxis regimen will not decrease ThINKK therapeutic efficacy. Collectively, these preclinical data support the testing of ThINKK immunotherapy in a phase I clinical trial.

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