Sensitization of human breast cancer cells to natural killer cell-mediated cytotoxicity by proteasome inhibition

E. Ames, W. H D Hallett, William J Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The proteasome inhibitor, bortezomib, has direct anti-tumour effects and has been demonstrated to sensitize tumour cells to tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand-mediated apoptosis. Natural killer (NK) cells are effective mediators of anti-tumour responses, both through cytotoxic granule killing and apoptosis-inducing pathways. We therefore investigated if bortezomib sensitized human breast cancer cells to killing by the human NK cell line, NK-92. Bortezomib was unable to sensitize MDA-231 breast cancer cells to NK cell-mediated killing in short-term in vitro assays. However, bortezomib did cause these cells to up-regulate apoptosis-related mRNA as well as death receptors on the cell surface. In a long-term in vitro tumour outgrowth assay that allows NK cells to use their full repertoire of killing pathways, bortezomib sensitized three breast cancer cell lines to NK cell-mediated killing, which led to greater anti-tumour effects than either treatment alone. We then used a xenogeneic mouse model in which CB-17 SCID mice were injected with human breast cancer cells. This model displayed the effectiveness of NK-92 cells, but the addition of bortezomib did not increase the survival further or reduce the number of lung metastases in tumour-bearing mice. However, while bortezomib was highly cytotoxic to NK-92 cells in vitro, bortezomib treatment in vivo did not decrease NK-92 function, suggesting that through alternative dosing or timing of bortezomib, greater efficacy may occur from combined therapy. These data demonstrate that combined treatment of human breast cancer with bortezomib and NK cells has the potential to generate superior anti-tumour responses than either therapy alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)504-513
Number of pages10
JournalClinical and Experimental Immunology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Breast cancer
  • Natural killer cell
  • Proteasome inhibition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy


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