Multiple factors in the design of a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) influence CAR T-cell activity, with costimulatory signals being a key component. Yet, the impact of costimulatory domains on the downstream signaling and subsequent functionality of CAR-engineered natural killer (NK) cells remains largely unexplored. Here, we evaluated the impact of various costimulatory domains on CAR-NK cell activity, using a CD70-targeting CAR. We found that CD28, a costimulatory molecule not inherently present in mature NK cells, significantly enhanced the antitumor efficacy and long-term cytotoxicity of CAR-NK cells both in vitro and in multiple xenograft models of hematologic and solid tumors. Mechanistically, we showed that CD28 linked to CD3Z creates a platform that recruits critical kinases, such as LCK and ZAP70, initiating a signaling cascade that enhances CAR-NK cell function. Our study provides insights into how CD28 costimulation enhances CAR-NK cell function and supports its incorporation in NK-based CARs for cancer immunotherapy.

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