Dynamic analysis of human natural killer cell response at single-cell resolution in B-Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Saheli Sarkar, Pooja Sabhachandani, Dashnamoorthy Ravi, Sayalee Potdar, Sneha Purvey, Afshin Beheshti, Andrew M. Evens, Tania Konry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Natural killer (NK) cells are phenotypically and functionally diverse lymphocytes that recognize and kill cancer cells. The susceptibility of target cancer cells to NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity depends on the strength and balance of regulatory (activating/inhibitory) ligands expressed on target cell surface. We performed gene expression arrays to determine patterns of NK cell ligands associated with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (b-NHL). Microarray analyses revealed significant upregulation of a multitude of NK-activating and costimulatory ligands across varied b-NHL cell lines and primary lymphoma cells, including ULBP1, CD72, CD48, and SLAMF6. To correlate genetic signatures with functional anti-lymphoma activity, we developed a dynamic and quantitative cytotoxicity assay in an integrated microfluidic droplet generation and docking array. Individual NK cells and target lymphoma cells were co-encapsulated in picoliter-volume droplets to facilitate monitoring of transient cellular interactions and NK cell effector outcomes at single-cell level. We identified significant variability in NK-lymphoma cell contact duration, frequency, and subsequent cytolysis. Death of lymphoma cells undergoing single contact with NK cells occurred faster than cells that made multiple short contacts. NK cells also killed target cells in droplets via contact-independent mechanisms that partially relied on calcium-dependent processes and perforin secretion, but not on cytokines (interferon-γ or tumor necrosis factor-a). We extended this technique to characterize functional heterogeneity in cytolysis of primary cells from b-NHL patients. Tumor cells from two diffuse large B-cell lymphoma patients showed similar contact durations with NK cells; primary Burkitt lymphoma cells made longer contacts and were lysed at later times. We also tested the cytotoxic efficacy of NK-92, a continuously growing NK cell line being investigated as an antitumor therapy, using our droplet-based bioassay. NK-92 cells were found to be more efficient in killing b-NHL cells compared with primary NK cells, requiring shorter contacts for faster killing activity. Taken together, our combined genetic and microfluidic analysis demonstrate b-NHL cell sensitivity to NK cell-based cytotoxicity, which was associated with significant heterogeneity in the dynamic interaction at single-cell level.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number1736
JournalFrontiers in immunology
Issue numberDEC
StatePublished - Dec 14 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


  • Dynamic analysis
  • Lymphoma
  • Microfluidic system
  • Natural killer cell cytotoxicity
  • Non-Hodgkin
  • Single cell


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