IL-15 is currently undergoing clinical trials to assess its efficacy for treatment of advanced cancers. The combination of IL-15 with soluble IL-15Rα generates a complex termed IL-15 superagonist (IL-15 SA) that possesses greater biological activity than IL-15 alone. IL-15 SA is considered an attractive antitumor and antiviral agent because of its ability to selectively expand NK and memory CD8(+) T (mCD8(+) T) lymphocytes. However, the adverse consequences of IL-15 SA treatment have not been defined. In this study, the effect of IL-15 SA on physiologic and immunologic functions of mice was evaluated. IL-15 SA caused dose- and time-dependent hypothermia, weight loss, liver injury, and mortality. NK (especially the proinflammatory NK subset), NKT, and mCD8(+) T cells were preferentially expanded in spleen and liver upon IL-15 SA treatment. IL-15 SA caused NK cell activation as indicated by increased CD69 expression and IFN-γ, perforin, and granzyme B production, whereas NKT and mCD8(+) T cells showed minimal, if any, activation. Cell depletion and adoptive transfer studies showed that the systemic toxicity of IL-15 SA was mediated by hyperproliferation of activated NK cells. Production of the proinflammatory cytokine IFN-γ, but not TNF-α or perforin, was essential to IL-15 SA-induced immunotoxicity. The toxicity and immunological alterations shown in this study are comparable to those reported in recent clinical trials of IL-15 in patients with refractory cancers and advance current knowledge by providing mechanistic insights into IL-15 SA-mediated immunotoxicity.
Copyright © 2015 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.