NKG2D and MICA/B shedding: a ‘tag game’ between NK cells and malignant cells

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Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes with cytotoxic functions and recognise target cells with the NK group 2D (NKG2D) receptor. Tumor cells are marked for NK-cell-mediated destruction upon expression of MICA and MICB (MICA/B), which are NKG2D ligands upregulated by many human cancers in response to cellular stress pathways associated with malignant transformation such as DNA damage and accumulation of misfolded proteins. However, MICA/B proteins are downregulated by tumor cells via intriguing molecular mechanisms, such as post-translational modifications in which the external domains of MICA/B are proteolytically cleaved by surface proteases and shed into the extracellular space. MICA/B shedding by cancer cells causes effective escape from NKG2D recognition and allows the development of cancers. Patients frequently have increased concentrations of soluble MICA/B molecules shed in the blood plasmas and sera, thus indicating that MICA/B shedding is a therapeutic target in immune-oncology. Here, we review the clinical significance of MICA/B shedding in cancer as well as novel immunotherapeutic approaches that aim to restore NKG2D-mediated surveillance. We also briefly discuss potential roles of MICA/B shedding beyond oncology, such as in viral infections and immune tolerance. This review will help to inform the future developments of NKG2D-based immunotherapies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1230
JournalClinical and Translational Immunology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2020


  • MICA and MICB
  • NK cells
  • NKG2D
  • cancer immunotherapy
  • proteolytic shedding


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