Remodeling of the tumor microenvironment via disrupting Blimp1+ effector Treg activity augments response to anti-PD-1 blockade

Academic Article


  • Background: Accumulation of Foxp3+ regulatory T (Treg) cells in the tumor often represents an important mechanism for cancer immune evasion and a critical barrier to anti-tumor immunity and immunotherapy. Many tumor-infiltrating Treg cells display an activated phenotype and express the transcription factor Blimp1. However, the specific impact of these Blimp1+ Treg cells and their follicular regulatory T (TFR) cell subset on tumor and the underlying mechanisms of action are not yet well-explored. Methods: Various transplantable tumor models were established in immunocompetent wild-type mice and mice with a Foxp3-specific ablation of Blimp1. Tumor specimens from patients with metastatic melanoma and TCGA datasets were analyzed to support the potential role of Treg and TFR cells in tumor immunity. In vitro culture assays and in vivo adoptive transfer assays were used to understand how Treg, TFR cells and antibody responses influence tumor control. RNA sequencing and NanoString analysis were performed to reveal the transcriptome of tumor-infiltrating Treg cells and tumor cells, respectively. Finally, the therapeutic effects of anti-PD-1 treatment combined with the disruption of Blimp1+ Treg activity were evaluated. Results: Blimp1+ Treg and TFR cells were enriched in the tumors, and higher tumoral TFR signatures indicated increased risk of melanoma metastasis. Deletion of Blimp1 in Treg cells resulted in impaired suppressive activity and a reprogramming into effector T-cells, which were largely restricted to the tumor-infiltrating Treg population. This destabilization combined with increased anti-tumor effector cellular responses, follicular helper T-cell expansion, enhanced tumoral IgE deposition and activation of macrophages secondary to dysregulated TFR cells, remodeled the tumor microenvironment and delayed tumor growth. The increased tumor immunogenicity with MHC upregulation improved response to anti-PD-1 blockade. Mechanistically, Blimp1 enforced intratumoral Treg cells with a unique transcriptional program dependent on Eomesodermin (Eomes) expression; deletion of Eomes in Blimp1-deficient Treg cells restored tumor growth and attenuated anti-tumor immunity. Conclusions: These findings revealed Blimp1 as a new critical regulator of tumor-infiltrating Treg cells and a potential target for modulating Treg activity to treat cancer. Our study has also revealed two FCERIA-containing immune signatures as promising diagnostic or prognostic markers for melanoma patients.
  • Published In

  • Molecular Cancer  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Dixon ML; Luo L; Ghosh S; Grimes JM; Leavenworth JD; Leavenworth JW
  • Volume

  • 20
  • Issue

  • 1