In liver cancer tumor-infiltrating regulatory T cells (Ti-Treg) are potent suppressors of tumor-specific T-cell responses and express high levels of the Treg-associated molecules cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 (CTLA-4) and glucocorticoid-induced tumor necrosis factor receptor (GITR). In this study, we have evaluated the capacity of GITR-ligation, CTLA-4-blockade and a combination of both treatments to alleviate immunosuppression mediated by Ti-Treg. Using ex vivo isolated cells from individuals with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or liver metastases from colorectal cancer (LM-CRC) we show that treatment with a soluble form of the natural ligand of GITR (GITRL), or with blocking antibodies to CTLA-4, reduces the suppression mediated by human liver tumor-infiltrating CD4+Foxp3+ Treg, thereby restoring proliferation and cytokine production by effector T cells. Importantly, combined treatment with low doses of both molecules exhibited stronger recovery of T cell function compared with either treatment alone. Our data suggest that in patients with primary and secondary liver cancer both GITR-ligation and anti-CTLA-4 mAb can improve the antitumor immunity by abrogating Ti-Treg mediated suppression.

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Department of Gastroenterology & Hepatology

Pedroza-Gonzalez, A., Zhou, G., Singh, S. P., Boor, P., Pan, Q., Grunhagen, D. J., … Sprengers, D. (2015). GITR engagement in combination with CTLA-4 blockade completely abrogates immunosuppression mediated by human liver tumor-derived regulatory T cells ex vivo. OncoImmunology, 4(12). doi:10.1080/2162402X.2015.1051297