BACKGROUND: For decades, immunotherapies have been integral for the treatment and management of bladder cancer, with immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) transforming patient care in recent years. However, response rates are poor to T cell-targeted ICIs such as programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) and programmed cell death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) blocking antibodies, framing a critical need for complementary immunotherapies. Promising strategies involve harnessing the activation potential of natural killer (NK) cells. They quickly exert their antitumor activity via signaling through germline-encoded activating receptors and are rapidly sensitized to new tissue microenvironments via their regulation by polymorphic HLA class I, KIR and NKG2A receptors. OBJECTIVE: In this review, we examined the roles of currently available NK-targeted antitumor treatment strategies such as engineered viral vectors, small-molecule IMiDs, NK agonist antibodies, interleukins, and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) NK cells, and their potential for improving the efficacy of immunotherapy in the treatment of bladder cancer. METHODS: Through review of current literature, we summarized our knowledge of NK cells in solid tumors and hematologic malignancies as their roles pertain to novel immunotherapies already being applied to the treatment of bladder cancer or that offer rationale for considering as potential novel immunotherapeutic strategies. RESULTS: NK cells play a critical role in shaping the tumor microenvironment (TME) that can be exploited to improve T cell-targeted immunotherapies. CONCLUSIONS: Emerging evidence suggests that NK cells are a prime target for improving antitumor functions in immunotherapies for the treatment of bladder cancer. Further research into profiling NK cells in settings of immunotherapies for bladder cancer could help identify patients who might maximally benefit from NK cell-targeted immunotherapies and the various approaches for exploiting their antitumor properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-139
Number of pages15
JournalBladder Cancer
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023


  • Bladder cancer
  • NK cell
  • immunotherapy


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