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Int J Oncol. 2008 Mar;32(3):527-35.

Inhibition of T cell and natural killer cell function by adenosine and its contribution to immune evasion by tumor cells (Review).

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 1X5, Canada.


The resistance of many human cancers to immune-based therapies, including adoptive immunotherapy and the administration of therapeutic cancer vaccines, has been attributed to tumor-associated immune suppression, due in part to immunosuppressive molecules located within the tumor microenvironment. Adenosine is a purine nucleoside found within the interstitial fluid of solid tumors at concentrations that are able to inhibit cell-mediated immune responses to tumor cells. It is well established that extracellular adenosine inhibits T lymphocyte activation and effector function, including T cell adhesion to tumor cells and cytotoxic activity, by signaling primarily through A2a and A3 adenosine receptors on the surface of T cells. Importantly, A2a adenosine receptor-deficient mice exhibit enhanced anti-tumor immune responses by CD8+ T cells, as well as a dramatic reduction in the growth of experimental tumors in comparison to wild-type controls. A2a adenosine receptor signaling has also been implicated in adenosine-mediated inhibition of cytokine production and cytotoxic activity by activated natural killer (NK) cells, although the process of NK cell granule exocytosis is apparently suppressed via a distinct and as yet uncharacterized adenosine receptor. In this report, we review the evidence that adenosine is a potent inhibitor of cellular immune responses and may therefore be a major barrier to the successful immunotherapy of human carcinomas. The signaling pathways through which adenosine exerts its inhibitory effects on cell-mediated immune responses are also discussed. The accumulated evidence suggests that the effectiveness of immune-based therapies for solid tumors may be enhanced by selective antagonism of the adenosine receptor subtypes through which adenosine inhibits the anti-tumor activity of T lymphocytes and NK cells.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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