PIEZO1-mediated mechanosensing governs NK-cell killing efficiency and infiltration in three-dimensional matrices

Natural killer (NK) cells play a vital role in eliminating tumorigenic cells. Efficient locating and killing of target cells in complex three-dimensional (3D) environments are critical for their functions under physiological conditions. However, the role of mechanosensing in regulating NK-cell killing efficiency in physiologically relevant scenarios is poorly understood. Here, we report that the responsiveness of NK cells is regulated by tumor cell stiffness. NK-cell killing efficiency in 3D is impaired against softened tumor cells, whereas it is enhanced against stiffened tumor cells. Notably, the durations required for NK-cell killing and detachment are significantly shortened for stiffened tumor cells. Furthermore, we have identified PIEZO1 as the predominantly expressed mechanosensitive ion channel among the examined candidates in NK cells. Perturbation of PIEZO1 abolishes stiffness-dependent NK-cell responsiveness, significantly impairs the killing efficiency of NK cells in 3D, and substantially reduces NK-cell infiltration into 3D collagen matrices. Conversely, PIEZO1 activation enhances NK killing efficiency as well as infiltration. In conclusion, our findings demonstrate that PIEZO1-mediated mechanosensing is crucial for NK killing functions, highlighting the role of mechanosensing in NK-cell killing efficiency under 3D physiological conditions and the influence of environmental physical cues on NK-cell functions.