Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) is a member of the Janus kinase (JAK)-STAT pathway, which is one of the key pathways contributing to cancer. STAT3 regulates transcription downstream of many cytokines including interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-10. In cancer, STAT3 is mainly described as a tumor promoter driving tumor cell proliferation, resistance to apoptosis, angiogenesis and metastasis and aberrant activation of STAT3 is associated with poor prognosis. STAT3 is also an important driver of immune evasion. Among many other immunosuppressive mechanisms, STAT3 aids tumor cells to escape natural killer (NK) cell-mediated immune surveillance. NK cells are innate lymphocytes, which can directly kill malignant cells but also regulate adaptive immune responses and contribute to the composition of the tumor microenvironment. The inborn ability to lyse transformed cells renders NK cells an attractive tool for cancer immunotherapy. Here, we provide an overview of the role of STAT3 in the dynamic interplay between NK cells and tumor cells. On the one hand, we summarize the current knowledge on how tumor cell-intrinsic STAT3 drives the evasion from NK cells. On the other hand, we describe the multiple functions of STAT3 in regulating NK-cell cytotoxicity, cytokine production and their anti-tumor responses in vivo. In light of the ongoing research on STAT3 inhibitors, we also discuss how targeting STAT3 would affect the two arms of STAT3-dependent regulation of NK cell-mediated anti-tumor immunity. Understanding the complexity of this interplay in the tumor microenvironment is crucial for future implementation of NK cell-based immunotherapies.
- Janus Kinases/metabolism
- Killer Cells, Natural/immunology
- STAT3 Transcription Factor/metabolism
- Tumor Microenvironment