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Institute for Tumor Immunology

Immune cells are often recruited into the malignant tissue, where they are reprogrammed not to damage the malignant cells but to actually support tumor growth. With focus on Natural Killer (NK) cells, we investigate how malignant cells communicate with immune cells to establish a tumor-supportive microenvironment.

The NK cell-dependent immune surveillance appears to be particularly effective in inhibiting early stages of tumor growth. The inducible surface expression of ligands for activating NK cell receptors on target cells is considered as an early "stress signal" and indicative for mutations before malignant transformation occurs. However, persistent surface expression of ligands on target cells and proteolytic formation of soluble ligands, inhibit the specific immune response and promote tumor progression. Recently, we identified extracellular vesicles (EVs) as important regulators of NK cell activity. We aim to explore the impact of EVs in cell-cell communication, within the tumor microenvironment (TME). To this end, we analyze the differential cargo loading of tumor cell-derived EVs and investigate the pathways responsible for their biogenesis. By elucidating the relevant receptor-ligand interactions (soluble, membrane-bound or vesicle-associated), we develop NK cell-based therapeutic concepts to combat cancer using recombinant proteins (immunoligands).