The goal of this study was to characterize the molecular mechanisms underlying cetuximab-mediated upregulation of HLA class I antigen-processing machinery components in head and neck cancer (HNC) cells and to determine the clinical significance of these changes in cetuximab-treated HNC patients. Flow cytometry, signaling studies, and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays were performed using HNC cells treated with cetuximab alone or with Fcγ receptor (FcγR)-bearing lymphocytes to establish the mechanism of EGFR-dependent regulation of HLA APM expression. A prospective phase II clinical trial of neoadjuvant cetuximab was used to correlate HLA class I expression with clinical response in HNC patients. EGFR blockade triggered STAT1 activation and HLA upregulation, in a src homology-containing protein (SHP)-2–dependent fashion, more prominently in HLA-B/C than in HLA-A alleles. EGFR signaling blockade also enhanced IFNγ receptor 1 (IFNAR) expression, augmenting induction of HLA class I and TAP1/2 expression by IFNγ, which was abrogated in STAT1−/− cells. Cetuximab enhanced HNC cell recognition by EGFR853–861-specific CTLs, and notably enhanced surface presentation of a non-EGFR peptide (MAGE-3271–279). HLA class I upregulation was significantly associated with clinical response in cetuximab-treated HNC patients. EGFR induces HLA downregulation through SHP-2/STAT1 suppression. Reversal of HLA class I downregulation was more prominent in clinical responders to cetuximab therapy, supporting an important role for adaptive immunity in cetuximab antitumor activity. Abrogating EGFR-induced immune escape mechanisms and restoring STAT1 signaling to reverse HLA downregulation using cetuximab should be combined with strategies to enhance adaptive cellular immunity. Cancer Immunol Res; 3(8); 1–10. ©2015 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Cancer Immunology Research Online (http://cancerimmunolres.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received February 24, 2015.
- Revision received April 6, 2015.
- Accepted April 20, 2015.
- ©2015 American Association for Cancer Research.