Rac1/ROCK-driven membrane dynamics promote natural killer cell cytotoxicity via granzyme-induced necroptosis

Yanting Zhu, Jun Xie, Jue Shi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Natural killer (NK) cells play an important role in cancer immunosurveillance and therapy. However, the target selectivity of NK cell activity is still poorly understood. Results: Here, we used live-cell reporters to unravel differential epithelial cancer target killing by primary human NK cells. We found highly variable fractions of killing by distinct NK cell cytotoxic modes that were not determined by NK ligand expression. Rather, epithelial plasma membrane dynamics driven by ROCK-mediated blebs and/or Rac1-mediated lamellipodia promoted necrotic mode in preference to the apoptotic mode of killing. Inhibition of granzyme B and key necroptosis regulators RIP1, RIP3, and MLKL significantly attenuated the necrotic killing, revealing a novel NK cell cytotoxic pathway by granzyme-induced necroptosis that conferred target selectivity. Conclusions: Our results not only elucidate a new NK cell effector mechanism but also suggest that tissue microenvironment and oncogenic signaling pathways that promote membrane dynamics, e.g., Rac1 and Rho/ROCK, could be exploited to enhance proinflammatory NK cell killing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number140
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Structural Biology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Plant Science
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology

User-Defined Keywords

  • Cancer variability
  • Cytotoxic dynamics
  • Membrane dynamics
  • Natural killer cell
  • Necroptosis
  • NK-cancer cell interaction


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