Tumor microenvironment modulation enhances immunologic benefit of chemoradiotherapy

Hanoteau, A., Newton, J.M., Krupar, R. et al.

Chemoradiotherapy (CRT) remains one of the most common cancer treatment modalities, and recent data suggest that CRT is maximally effective when there is generation of an anti-tumoral immune response. However, CRT has also been shown to promote immunosuppressive mechanisms which must be blocked or reversed to maximize its immune stimulating effects.

Therefore, using a preclinical model of human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), we developed a clinically relevant therapy combining CRT and two existing immunomodulatory drugs: cyclophosphamide (CTX) and the small molecule inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) inhibitor L-n6-(1-iminoethyl)-lysine (L-NIL). In this model, we treated the syngeneic HPV-HNSCC mEER tumor-bearing mice with fractionated (10 fractions of 3 Gy) tumor-directed radiation and weekly cisplatin administration. We compared the immune responses induced by CRT and those induced by combinatory treatment (CRT + CTX/L-NIL) with flow cytometry, quantitative multiplex immunofluorescence and by profiling immune-related gene expression changes.

We show that combination treatment favorably remodels the tumor myeloid immune microenvironment including an increase in anti-tumor immune cell types (inflammatory monocytes and M1-like macrophages) and a decrease in immunosuppressive granulocytic myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs). Intratumoral T cell infiltration and tumor antigen specificity of T cells were also improved, including a 31.8-fold increase in the CD8+ T cell/ regulatory T cell ratio and a significant increase in tumor antigen-specific CD8+ T cells compared to CRT alone. CTX/LNIL immunomodulation was also shown to significantly improve CRT efficacy, leading to rejection of 21% established tumors in a CD8-dependent manner.

Overall, these data show that modulation of the tumor immune microenvironment with CTX/L-NIL enhances susceptibility of treatment-refractory tumors to CRT. The combination of tumor immune microenvironment modulation with CRT constitutes a translationally relevant approach to enhance CRT efficacy through enhanced immune activation.


Hanoteau, A., Newton, J.M., Krupar, R. et al. "Tumor microenvironment modulation enhances immunologic benefit of chemoradiotherapy" Journal of ImmunoTherapy for Cancer (2019): doi: 10.1186/s40425-018-0485-9.