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Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2019 Sep 9. doi: 10.1007/s00262-019-02388-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Survival of the fittest: how myeloid-derived suppressor cells survive in the inhospitable tumor microenvironment.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), Baltimore, MD, USA.
Department of Pathology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah, 15 North Medical Drive East, Ste. #1100, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), Baltimore, MD, USA.


Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC) are present in most cancer patients where they are significant contributors to the immune suppressive tumor microenvironment (TME). The TME is a hostile locale due to deficiencies in oxygen (hypoxia) and nutrients, and the presence of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The survival of tumor cells within the TME is partially governed by two mechanisms: (1) Activation of the transcription factor Nuclear Factor Erythroid-derived 2-like 2 (Nrf2) which turns on genes that attenuate oxidative stress; and (2) The presence of High Mobility Group Box Protein-1 (HMGB1), a damage-associated molecular pattern molecule (DAMP) that induces autophagy and protects against apoptosis. Because Nrf2 and HMGB1 promote tumor cell survival, we speculated that Nrf2 and HMGB1 may facilitate MDSC survival. We tested this hypothesis using Nrf2+/+ and Nrf2-/- BALB/c and C57BL/6 mice and pharmacological inhibitors of HMGB1. In vitro and in vivo studies demonstrated that Nrf2 increased the suppressive potency and quantity of tumor-infiltrating MDSC by up-regulating MDSC production of H2O2 and decreasing MDSC apoptosis. Decreased apoptosis was accompanied by a decrease in the production of MDSC, demonstrating that MDSC levels are homeostatically regulated. Pharmacological inhibition of autophagy increased MDSC apoptosis, indicating that autophagy increases MDSC half-life. Inhibition of HMGB1 also increased MDSC apoptosis and reduced MDSC autophagy. These results combined with our previous findings that HMGB1 drives the accumulation of MDSC demonstrate that HMGB1 maintains MDSC viability by inducing autophagy. Collectively, these findings identify Nrf2 and HMGB1 as important factors that enable MDSC to survive in the TME.


Autophagy; HMGB1; High mobility group box protein 1; Immune suppression; MDSC; Oxidative stress


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