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Immune signature and therapeutic approach of natural killer cell in chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma.

Natural killer (NK) cells are one of the key members of innate immunity that predominantly reside in the liver, potentiating immune responses against viral infections or malignant tumors. It has been reported that changes in cell numbers and function of NK cells are associated with the development and progression of chronic liver diseases (CLDs) including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic liver disease, and chronic viral hepatitis. Also, it is known that the crosstalk between NK cells and hepatic stellate cells plays an important role in liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. In particular, the impaired functions of NK cells observed in CLDs consequently contribute to occurrence and progression of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Chronic infections by hepatitis B or C viruses counteract the anti-tumor immunity of the host by producing the sheddases. Soluble major histocompatibility complex class I polypeptide-related sequence A (sMICA), released from the cell surfaces by sheddases, disrupts the interaction and affects the function of NK cells. Recently, the MICA/B-NK stimulatory receptor NK group 2 member D (NKG2D) axis has been extensively studied in HCC. HCC patients with low membrane-bound MICA or high sMICA concentration have been associated with poor prognosis. Therefore, reversing the sMICA-mediated downregulation of NKG2D has been proposed as an attractive strategy to enhance both innate and adaptive immune responses against HCC. This review aims to summarize recent studies on NK cell immune signatures and its roles in CLD and hepatocellular carcinogenesis and discusses the therapeutic approaches of MICA/B-NKG2D-based or NK cell-based immunotherapy for HCC.

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