Targeted immunotherapy of triple-negative breast cancer by aptamer-engineered NK cells

Zhenghu Chen, Zihua Zeng, Quanyuan Wan, Xiaohui Liu, Jianjun Qi, Youli Zu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive subtype of breast cancer comprised of cells that lack expression of targetable biomarkers. Nucleic acid aptamers are a group of molecular ligands that can specifically bind to their targets with high affinity. The ssDNA aptamer PDGC21-T recognizes poorly differentiated cancer cells and tumor tissues through an unidentified cell surface target(s). Because TNBC tumor cells are poorly differentiated, the aptamer PDGC21-T is a promising therapeutic candidate to target TNBC tumor cells. In vitro study revealed that synthetic aptamer probes selectively targeted TNBC cell lines. To assess aptamer immunotherapeutic targeting capability, we generated aptamer-engineered NK cells (ApEn-NK) using aptamer probes as a targeting ligand and NK cells as a therapeutic agent. Cell clustering formation assays revealed that ApEn-NK bound both suspended and adherent TNBC cells with high affinity. In a functional study, ApEn-NK treatment triggered apoptosis and death of cultured TNBC cells. Finally, systemic administration of ApEn-NK in mice harboring TNBC xenografts resulted in significant inhibition of lung metastasis relative to parental NK cell treatments. Unlike chemotherapy, ApEn-NK treatment did not affect body weight in treated mice. We demonstrate a novel approach for targeted TNBC immunotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number121259
Pages (from-to)121259
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Aptamer
  • Natural killer cell
  • Targeted immunotherapy
  • Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC)
  • Killer Cells, Natural/metabolism
  • Animals
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms/drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Mice
  • Lung Neoplasms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials


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