Immunosuppression of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) is a common feature of advanced epithelial tumors, but its biological basis has remained obscure. In addition, anti-PD-1/PD-L1 treatment has produced encouraging clinical responses, but it is still unclear which patients are likely to benefit. Thus, successful therapeutic translation will require a thorough understanding of mechanisms of treatment resistance and predictive biomarkers to select patients.
Using multiple lung cancer mouse models (spontaneous and transplant models), we demonstrate a molecular link between epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and intra-tumoral CD8+ T cell immunosuppression, two key drivers of malignant tumor progression. We show that microRNA-200 (miR-200), a cell-autonomous suppressor of EMT and metastasis, targets PD-L1, a checkpoint inhibitor of CD8+ T cell immunity. Moreover, ZEB1, an EMT activator and transcriptional repressor of miR-200, relieves miR-200 repression of PD-L1 on tumor cells, leading to CD8+TIL dysfunction and metastasis. These findings were further supported by robust correlations between the EMT score, miR-200 levels and PD-L1 expression in multiple human lung cancer datasets: The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) lung adenocarcinoma dataset and the Profiling of Resistance patterns and Oncogenic Signaling Pathways in Evaluation of Cancers of the Thorax (PROSPECT) project at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
In addition to revealing a link between EMT and T cell dysfunction, these findings also show that ZEB1 promotes metastasis through a heretofore unappreciated cell non-autonomous mechanism, and they suggest that subgroups of patients in whom malignant progression is driven by EMT activators may respond to treatment with PD-L1 antagonists. Our data also suggest that EMT represents an important biomarker to select the patients who may benefit from immune checkpoint blockade agents and other immunotherapies in lung cancer and possibly a broader range of other cancers.
Citation Format: Limo Chen, Sangeeta Goswami, Xiaohui Yi, Lauren Byers, Lixia Diao, Jonathon Roybal, Christin Ungewiss, David Peng, Jing Wang, Ignacio Wistuba, Lieping Chen, Stephen Ullrich, John Heymach, Jonathan Kurie, Xiao-Feng Qin, Don Gibbons. A big role in tumor immune microenvironment of a small non-coding RNA: microRNA-200. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the AACR Special Conference: Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy: A New Chapter; December 1-4, 2014; Orlando, FL. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Immunol Res 2015;3(10 Suppl):Abstract nr B67.
- ©2015 American Association for Cancer Research.