Here we report on the existence and functionality of the immune checkpoint signal regulatory protein α (SIRPα) in NK cells and describe how it can be modulated for cell therapy. NK cell SIRPα is up-regulated upon IL-2 stimulation, interacts with target cell CD47 in a threshold-dependent manner, and counters other stimulatory signals, including IL-2, CD16, or NKG2D. Elevated expression of CD47 protected K562 tumor cells and mouse and human MHC class I–deficient target cells against SIRPα+ primary NK cells, but not against SIRPα NKL or NK92 cells. SIRPα deficiency or antibody blockade increased the killing capacity of NK cells. Overexpression of rhesus monkey CD47 in human MHC-deficient cells prevented cytotoxicity by rhesus NK cells in a xenogeneic setting. The SIRPα–CD47 axis was found to be highly species specific. Together, the results demonstrate that disruption of the SIRPα–CD47 immune checkpoint may augment NK cell antitumor responses and that elevated expression of CD47 may prevent NK cell–mediated killing of allogeneic and xenogeneic tissues.

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