The aryl hydrocarbon receptor suppresses immunity to oral squamous cell carcinoma through immune checkpoint regulation
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Immune checkpoint inhibitors represent some of the most important cancer treatments developed in the last 20 y. However, existing immunotherapy approaches benefit only a minority of patients. Here, we provide evidence that the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is a central player in the regulation of multiple immune checkpoints in oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). Orthotopic transplant of mouse OSCC cells from which the AhR has been deleted (MOC1AhR-KO) results, within 1 wk, in the growth of
... in the growth of small tumors that are then completely rejected within 2 wk, concomitant with an increase in activated T cells in tumor-draining lymph nodes (tdLNs) and T cell signaling within the tumor. By 2 wk, AhR+ control cells (MOC1Cas9), but not MOC1AhR-KO cells up-regulate exhaustion pathways in the tumor-infiltrating T cells and expression of checkpoint molecules on CD4+ T cells (PD-1, CTLA4, Lag3, and CD39) and macrophages, dendritic cells, and Ly6G+ myeloid cells (PD-L1 and CD39) in tdLNs. Notably, MOC1AhR-KO cell transplant renders mice 100% immune to later challenge with wild-type tumors. Analysis of altered signaling pathways within MOC1AhR-KO cells shows that the AhR controls baseline and IFNγ-induced Ido and PD-L1 expression, the latter of which occurs through direct transcriptional control. These observations 1) confirm the importance of malignant cell AhR in suppression of tumor immunity, 2) demonstrate the involvement of the AhR in IFNγ control of PD-L1 and IDO expression in the cancer context, and 3) suggest that the AhR is a viable target for modulation of multiple immune checkpoints.