Editors' ChoiceCancer Immunology

Active life, active antitumor defense

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Science Signaling  25 Apr 2017:
Vol. 10, Issue 476, eaan4822
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aan4822

An active lifestyle in mice stimulates adrenergic signaling in the nervous system that enhances the function of antitumor natural killer cells.

Exercise is thought to prevent cancer, and a physically, mentally, and socially active lifestyle is associated with better survival rates in cancer patients. Mice are commonly used in cancer research, but their housing conditions are generally stark. Song et al. found that enriching the housing environment to provide sensory, cognitive, motor, and social stimulation improved the host antitumor response through a connection between the nervous and immune systems. The sympathetic nervous system consists of sensory and motor neurons that, together with the brain, coordinate “unconscious” changes in internal organ function, such as heartbeat acceleration and bronchial dilation. Various genetic and pharmacological approaches in mice revealed that activity-dependent adrenergic signaling in sympathetic neurons specifically induced the expression of genes (those encoding the cell surface receptors NKG2D and CCR5) in natural killer (NK) cells that promoted their chemotaxis and cytolytic function, which suppressed the growth of pancreatic and lung tumors, as well as the metastatic growth of melanoma cells in mice. NK cells are critical components of the innate immune defense. How sympathetic nerves stimulate NK cell gene expression is not clear; nonetheless, these findings provide insight into the molecular and cellular links between activity and tumor suppression and may lead to immunostimulatory therapeutic strategies for patients.

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