Background: Neuroblastoma (NB) is a common malignant extracranial solid tumor in children, responsible for 11% of cancer deaths in pediatric patients under 15 (Smith et al, Cancer, 2014). High-risk neuroblastoma is a metastatic disease in children aged 18 months or older with L2, M, or MS disease with amplification of the MYCN oncogene (Chuang Pediatr Blood Cancer 2021). Recent analyses by COG show that HR Neuroblastoma still has a 5-year event free survival of 51% despite an extensive treatment regimen (Steven et al, ASCO, 2022). To address improved tumor targeting and overcome antigen escape, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technology to Natural Killer (NK) cell therapy has been adapted (Chu/Cairo, et al, Frontiers in Oncology, 2019). TGFβ is a potent mechanism of the NK cell anti-tumor resistance and is present at elevated levels in the NB tumor microenvironment (TME) (Foltz, Cancers, 2018). Studies demonstrated that blockade of TGF-β signaling in NK cells caused the accumulation of NK cells that produce IFN-γ and neutralization of TGF-β prevented NKG2D downregulation and also restored NK cell anti-tumor reactivity (Nayyar/Chu/Cairo, et al Frontierls in Oncology, 2018). ROR1, a transmembrane protein is highly expressed on the majority of NB (Rebagay/Yan Front Oncol, 2012). Our group has successfully expanded functional and active peripheral blood NK cells (exPBNK) with irradiated feeder cells and electroporated CAR mRNA to exPBNK (Chu/Cairo, et al Cancer Immunol Res, 2015).

Objective: To determine in vitro cytotoxicity against neuroblastoma cells by ex vivo expanded TGFβ imprinting (TGFβi) NK cells.

Methods: TGFβi NK cells are generated by culturing expanded NK cells with irradiated K562-41BBL-mbIL21 in 50 IU/mL IL-2 plus 10 ng/mL TGFβ every 2-3 days for two weeks. NK and TGFβi NK cells specific in-vitro cytotoxicity were compared via luciferase reporter assay against ROR1+ NB cell lines as we previously described (Chu/Cairo, et al, JITC, 2022). Cytokine/chemokine levels secreted by NK and TGFβi NK cells were compared using ELISA assays (Chu/Cairo, et al, JITC, 2022).

Results: We have successfully expanded TGFβi NK cells. These TGFβi NK cells showed significantly enhanced in vitro cytotoxicity against NB cells compared to NK cells under TGFβ environment (20+2.4% vs 0%; p<0.001) at E:T=3:1 and consistently, TGFβ-imprinting NK secreted significantly high level of TNF-alpha (393.7pg/ml+16.77pg/ml) against NB cells (p<0.001) compared to NK cells (79.7pg/ml+14.7pg/ml) under TGFβ environment.

Conclusion: Our data indicate TGFβi NK cells may be a promising novel therapy to overcome the immunosuppression of TGFβ in the tumor microenvironment for pediatric NB tumors. We will further engineer these TGFβi NK cells to express anti-ROR1 CAR to enhance the targeting specificity against NB tumors and investigate the anti-tumor effects of anti-ROR1 CAR TGFβi NK cells against NB tumors in-vitro and in-vivo (Funded by U54 CA232561).

Citation Format: Jessica A. Ayala-Cuesta, Yaya Chu, Keira Foley, Meijuan Tian, Kayleigh Klose, Alyssa S. Mendelowitz, Timothy P. Cripe, Dean A. Lee, Mitchell S. Cairo. Targeting high-risk neuroblastoma by TGFβ imprinted natural killer cells [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2024; Part 1 (Regular Abstracts); 2024 Apr 5-10; San Diego, CA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2024;84(6_Suppl):Abstract nr 3615.