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Cancer Res. 2018 Sep 1;78(17):5011-5022. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-18-0118. Epub 2018 Jul 2.

Combined Blockade of IL6 and PD-1/PD-L1 Signaling Abrogates Mutual Regulation of Their Immunosuppressive Effects in the Tumor Microenvironment.

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Department of Immunology, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan.
Department of Immunogenetics, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan.
Department of Dermatology and Plastic Surgery, Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan.
Department of Clinical Investigation, Faculty of Life Sciences, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan.
Nishimura Project Laboratory, Institute of Resource Development and Analysis, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan.
Department of Immunology, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan.


Recently emerging cancer immunotherapies combine the applications of therapeutics to disrupt the immunosuppressive conditions in tumor-bearing hosts. In this study, we found that targeting the proinflammatory cytokine IL6 enhances tumor-specific Th1 responses and subsequent antitumor effects in tumor-bearing mice. IL6 blockade upregulated expression of the immune checkpoint molecule programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) on melanoma cells. This PD-L1 induction was canceled in IFNγ-deficient mice or CD4+ T cell-depleted mice, suggesting that CD4+ T cell-derived IFNγ is important for PD-L1 induction in tumor-bearing hosts. In some patients with melanoma, however, treatment with the anti-PD-1 antibody nivolumab increased systemic levels of IL6, which was associated with poor clinical responses. This PD-L1 blockade-evoked induction of IL6 was reproducible in melanoma-bearing mice. We found that PD-1/PD-L1 blockade prompted PD-1+ macrophages to produce IL6 in the tumor microenvironment. Depletion of macrophages in melanoma-bearing mice reduced the levels of IL6 during PD-L1 blockade, suggesting macrophages are responsible for the IL6-mediated defective CD4+ Th1 response. Combined blockade of the mutually regulated immunosuppressive activities of IL6 and PD-1/PD-L1 signals enhanced expression of T cell-attracting chemokines and promoted infiltration of IFNγ-producing CD4+ T cells in tumor tissues, exerting a synergistic antitumor effect, whereas PD-L1 blockade alone did not promote Th1 response. Collectively, these findings suggest that IL6 is a rational immunosuppressive target for overcoming the narrow therapeutic window of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 therapy.Significance: These findings advance our understanding of IL6-PD1/PD-L1 cross-talk in the tumor microenvironment and provide clues for targeted interventional therapy that may prove more effective against cancer. Cancer Res; 78(17); 5011-22. ©2018 AACR.

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