Balancing cancer immunotherapy and immune-related adverse events: The emerging role [...]

T. Alissafi et al., 2019


Advances in our understanding οf tumor immunity have prompted a paradigm shift in oncology, with the emergence of immunotherapy, where therapeutic agents are used to target immune cells rather than cancer cells. A real breakthrough in the field of immunotherapy came with the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI), namely antagonistic antibodies that block key immune regulatory molecules (checkpoint molecules), such as cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 (CTLA-4), programmed cell death protein (PD-1) and its ligand PD-L1, that under physiologic conditions suppress T cell effector function. However, despite the enormous success, a significant proportion of patients do not respond, while responses are frequently accompanied by life-threatening autoimmune related adverse events (irAEs). A major impediment in the effectiveness of ICI immunotherapy is the tumoral resistance, which is dependent on the immunosuppressive nature of tumor microenvironment (TME). Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are among the most abundant suppressive cells in the TME and their presence has been correlated with tumor progression, invasiveness as well as metastasis. Tregs are characterized by the expression of the transcription factor Foxp3 and various mechanisms ranging from cell-to-cell contact to secretion of inhibitory molecules have been implicated in their function. Notably, Tregs amply express most of the checkpoint molecules such as CTLA4, PD1 and LAG3 and therefore represent a direct target of ICI immunotherapy. Taking into consideration the critical role of Tregs in maintenance of immune homeostasis and avoidance of autoimmunity it is plausible that targeting of Tregs by ICI immunotherapy results in the development of irAEs. Since the use of ICI becomes common, and new immune checkpoint molecules are currently under clinical trials for the treatment of cancer, the occurrence of irAEs is expected to dramatically rise. Herein we review the current literature focusing on the role of Tregs in cancer evolution, ICI response and development of irAEs. Unraveling the complex mechanisms that hinder the tumor immune surveillance and in particular how ICI immunotherapy imprint on Treg activities to promote cancer regression while avoid development of irAEs, will empower the design of novel immunotherapeutic modalities in cancer with increased efficacy and diminished adverse events.


Alissafi, T., Hatzioannou, A., Legaki, A. I., Varveri, A., & Verginis, P. (2019). Balancing cancer immunotherapy and immune-related adverse events: The emerging role of regulatory T cells. Journal of Autoimmunity, 104, 102310.

doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2019.102310

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