The immune system represents a major barrier to cancer progression, driving the evolution of immunoregulatory interactions between malignant cells and T-cells in the tumor environment. Blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm (BPDCN), a rare acute leukemia with plasmacytoid dendritic cell (pDC) differentiation, provides a unique opportunity to study these interactions. pDCs are key producers of interferon alpha (IFNA) that play an important role in T-cell activation at the interface between the innate and adaptive immune system. To assess how uncontrolled proliferation of malignant BPDCN cells affects the tumor environment, we catalog immune cell heterogeneity in the bone marrow (BM) of five healthy controls and five BPDCN patients by analyzing 52,803 single-cell transcriptomes, including 18,779 T-cells. We test computational techniques for robust cell type classification and find that T-cells in BPDCN patients consistently upregulate interferon alpha (IFNA) response and downregulate tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFA) pathways. Integrating transcriptional data with T-cell receptor sequencing via shared barcodes reveals significant T-cell exhaustion in BPDCN that is positively correlated with T-cell clonotype expansion. By highlighting new mechanisms of T-cell exhaustion and immune evasion in BPDCN, our results demonstrate the value of single-cell multiomics to understand immune cell interactions in the tumor environment.
The majority of high-grade serous ovarian cancers (HGSCs) are deficient in homologous recombination (HR) DNA repair, most commonly due to mutations or hypermethylation of the BRCA1/2 genes. We aimed to discover how BRCA1/2 mutations shape the cellular phenotypes and spatial interactions of the tumor microenvironment. Using a highly multiplex immunofluorescence and image analysis we generate spatial proteomic data for 21 markers in 124,623 single cells from 112 tumor cores originating from 31 tumors with BRCA1/2 mutation (BRCA1/2mut), and from 13 tumors without alterations in HR genes. We identify a phenotypically distinct tumor microenvironment in the BRCA1/2mut tumors with evidence of increased immunosurveillance. Importantly, we report a prognostic role of a proliferative tumor-cell subpopulation, which associates with enhanced spatial tumor-immune interactions by CD8+ and CD4 + T-cells in the BRCA1/2mut tumors. The single-cell spatial landscapes indicate distinct patterns of spatial immunosurveillance with the potential to improve immunotherapeutic strategies and patient stratification in HGSC.
Proliferation is a fundamental trait of cancer cells, but its properties and spatial organization in tumours are poorly characterized. Here we use highly multiplexed tissue imaging to perform single-cell quantification of cell cycle regulators and then develop robust, multivariate, proliferation metrics. Across diverse cancers, proliferative architecture is organized at two spatial scales: large domains, and smaller niches enriched for specific immune lineages. Some tumour cells express cell cycle regulators in the (canonical) patterns expected of freely growing cells, a phenomenon we refer to as 'cell cycle coherence'. By contrast, the cell cycles of other tumour cell populations are skewed towards specific phases or exhibit non-canonical (incoherent) marker combinations. Coherence varies across space, with changes in oncogene activity and therapeutic intervention, and is associated with aggressive tumour behaviour. Thus, multivariate measures from high-plex tissue images capture clinically significant features of cancer proliferation, a fundamental step in enabling more precise use of anti-cancer therapies.
ADARs catalyze Adenosine-to-Inosine (A-to-I) editing of double-stranded RNA and regulate global gene expression output through interactions with RNA and other proteins. ADARs play important roles in development and disease, and previous work has shown that ADAR1 is oncogenic in a growing list of cancer types. Here we show that ADAR1 is a critical gene for triple-negative breast cancer cells, as ADAR1 loss results in reduced growth (viability and cell cycle progression), invasion, and mammosphere formation. Whole transcriptome sequencing analyses demonstrate that ADAR1 regulates both coding and non-coding targets by altering gene expression level, A-to-I editing, and splicing. We determine that a recoding edit in filamin B (FLNB chr3:58156064) reduces the tumor suppressive activities of the protein to promote growth and invasion. We also show that several tumor suppressor microRNAs are upregulated upon ADAR1 loss and suppress cell cycle progression and invasion. Implications: This work describes several novel mechanisms of ADAR1-mediated oncogenesis in triple-negative breast cancer, providing support to strategies targeting ADAR1 in this aggressive cancer type that has few treatment options.
Interest in harnessing natural killer (NK) cells for cancer immunotherapy is rapidly growing. However, efficacy of NK cell-based immunotherapy remains limited in most trials. Strategies to augment the killing efficacy of NK cells are thus much needed. In the current study, we found that mitochondrial apoptosis (mtApoptosis) pathway is essential for efficient NK killing, especially at physiologically relevant effector-to-target ratios. Furthermore, NK cells can prime cancer cells for mtApoptosis and mitochondrial priming status affects cancer-cell susceptibility to NK-mediated killing. Interestingly, pre-activating NK cells confers on them resistance to BH3 mimetics. Combining BH3 mimetics with NK cells synergistically kills cancer cells in vitro and suppresses tumor growth in vivo. The ideal BH3 mimetic to use in such an approach can be predicted by BH3 profiling. We herein report a rational and precision strategy to augment NK-based immunotherapy, which may be adaptable to T cell-based immunotherapies as well.
Chromothripsis is a catastrophic mutational process that promotes tumorigenesis and causes congenital disease1-4. Chromothripsis originates from aberrations of nuclei called micronuclei or chromosome bridge5-8. These structures have fragile nuclear envelopes (NEs) that spontaneously rupture9,10, leading to DNA damage when chromatin is exposed to the interphase cytoplasm. Here, we identify a mechanism explaining a major fraction of this DNA damage. Micronuclei accumulate large amounts of RNA-DNA hybrids, which are edited by ADAR enzymes (adenine deaminases acting on RNA) to generate deoxyinosine (dI). dI is then converted into abasic sites by a DNA base excision repair (BER) glycosylase, MPG (N-methyl-purine DNA glycosylase)11,12. These abasic sites are cleaved by the BER endonuclease, APE1 (apurinic/apyrimidinic endonuclease)12, creating single-strand DNA nicks that can be converted to DNA double strand breaks by DNA replication or when closely spaced nicks occur on opposite strands13,14. This model predicts that MPG should be able to remove the dI base from the DNA strand of RNA-DNA hybrids, which we demonstrate using pure proteins and oligonucleotide substrates. These findings identify a mechanism for fragmentation of micronuclear chromosomes, an important step in generating chromothripsis. Rather than breaking any normal chromosome, we propose that the eukaryotic cytoplasm only damages chromosomes with preexisting defects such as the DNA base abnormality described here.
Animal models are critical for the preclinical validation of cancer immunotherapies. Unfortunately, mouse breast cancer models do not faithfully reproduce the molecular subtypes and immune environment of the human disease. In particular, there are no good murine models of estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, the predominant subtype in patients. Here, we show that Nitroso-N-methylurea-induced mammary tumors in outbred Sprague-Dawley rats recapitulate the heterogeneity for mutational profiles, ER expression, and immune evasive mechanisms observed in human breast cancer. We demonstrate the utility of this model for preclinical studies by dissecting mechanisms of response to immunotherapy using combination TGFBR inhibition and PD-L1 blockade. Short-term treatment of early-stage tumors induced durable responses. Gene expression profiling and spatial mapping classified tumors as inflammatory and non-inflammatory, and identified IFN, TCR and BCR signaling, CD74/MHC II, and epithelium-interacting CD8+ T cells as markers of response, whereas the complement system, M2 macrophage phenotype, and translation in mitochondria were associated with resistance. We found that the expression of CD74 correlated with leukocyte fraction and TCR diversity in human breast cancer. We identified a subset of rat ER+ tumors marked by expression of antigen-processing genes that had an active immune environment and responded to treatment. A gene signature characteristic of these tumors predicted disease-free survival in ER+ Luminal A breast cancer patients and overall survival in metastatic breast cancer patients receiving anti-PD-L1 therapy. We demonstrate the usefulness of this preclinical model for immunotherapy and suggest examination to expand immunotherapy to a subset of patients with ER+ disease.
Monocytes undergo phenotypic and functional changes in response to inflammatory cues, but the molecular signals that drive different monocyte states remain largely undefined. We show that monocytes acquire macrophage markers upon glomerulonephritis and may be derived from CCR2+CX3CR1+ double-positive monocytes, which are preferentially recruited, dwell within glomerular capillaries, and acquire proinflammatory characteristics in the nephritic kidney. Mechanistically, the transition to immature macrophages begins within the vasculature and relies on CCR2 in circulating cells and TNFR2 in parenchymal cells, findings that are recapitulated in vitro with monocytes cocultured with TNF-TNFR2-activated endothelial cells generating CCR2 ligands. Single-cell RNA sequencing of cocultures defines a CCR2-dependent monocyte differentiation path associated with the acquisition of immune effector functions and generation of CCR2 ligands. Immature macrophages are detected in the urine of lupus nephritis patients, and their frequency correlates with clinical disease. In conclusion, CCR2-dependent functional specialization of monocytes into macrophages begins within the TNF-TNFR2-activated vasculature and may establish a CCR2-based autocrine, feed-forward loop that amplifies renal inflammation.
Immunotherapy is a promising treatment for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), but patients relapse, highlighting the need to understand the mechanisms of resistance. We discovered that in primary breast cancer, tumor cells that resist T cell attack are quiescent. Quiescent cancer cells (QCCs) form clusters with reduced immune infiltration. They also display superior tumorigenic capacity and higher expression of chemotherapy resistance and stemness genes. We adapted single-cell RNA-sequencing with precise spatial resolution to profile infiltrating cells inside and outside the QCC niche. This transcriptomic analysis revealed hypoxia-induced programs and identified more exhausted T cells, tumor-protective fibroblasts, and dysfunctional dendritic cells inside clusters of QCCs. This uncovered differential phenotypes in infiltrating cells based on their intra-tumor location. Thus, QCCs constitute immunotherapy-resistant reservoirs by orchestrating a local hypoxic immune-suppressive milieu that blocks T cell function. Eliminating QCCs holds the promise to counteract immunotherapy resistance and prevent disease recurrence in TNBC.
Cutaneous melanoma is a highly immunogenic malignancy that is surgically curable at early stages but life-threatening when metastatic. Here we integrate high-plex imaging, 3D high-resolution microscopy, and spatially resolved microregion transcriptomics to study immune evasion and immunoediting in primary melanoma. We find that recurrent cellular neighborhoods involving tumor, immune, and stromal cells change significantly along a progression axis involving precursor states, melanoma in situ, and invasive tumor. Hallmarks of immunosuppression are already detectable in precursor regions. When tumors become locally invasive, a consolidated and spatially restricted suppressive environment forms along the tumor-stromal boundary. This environment is established by cytokine gradients that promote expression of MHC-II and IDO1, and by PD1-PDL1-mediated cell contacts involving macrophages, dendritic cells, and T cells. A few millimeters away, cytotoxic T cells synapse with melanoma cells in fields of tumor regression. Thus, invasion and immunoediting can coexist within a few millimeters of each other in a single specimen.
SIGNIFICANCE: The reorganization of the tumor ecosystem in primary melanoma is an excellent setting in which to study immunoediting and immune evasion. Guided by classic histopathology, spatial profiling of proteins and mRNA reveals recurrent morphologic and molecular features of tumor evolution that involve localized paracrine cytokine signaling and direct cell-cell contact. This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 1397.
Functional precision medicine is a strategy whereby live tumor cells from affected individuals are directly perturbed with drugs to provide immediately translatable, personalized information to guide therapy. The heterogeneity of human cancer has led to the realization that personalized approaches are needed to improve treatment outcomes. Precision oncology has traditionally used static features of the tumor to dictate which therapies should be used. Static features can include expression of key targets or genomic analysis of mutations to identify therapeutically targetable "drivers." Although a surprisingly small proportion of individuals derive clinical benefit from the static approach, functional precision medicine can provide additional information regarding tumor vulnerabilities. We discuss emerging technologies for functional precision medicine as well as limitations and challenges in using these assays in the clinical trials that will be necessary to determine whether functional precision medicine can improve outcomes and eventually become a standard tool in clinical oncology.
Combination therapies are superior to monotherapy for many cancers. This advantage was historically ascribed to the ability of combinations to address tumor heterogeneity, but synergistic interaction is now a common explanation as well as a design criterion for new combinations. We review evidence that independent drug action, described in 1961, explains the efficacy of many practice-changing combination therapies: it provides populations of patients with heterogeneous drug sensitivities multiple chances of benefit from at least one drug. Understanding response heterogeneity could reveal predictive or pharmacodynamic biomarkers for more precise use of existing drugs and realize the benefits of additivity or synergy.
Highly multiplexed tissue imaging makes detailed molecular analysis of single cells possible in a preserved spatial context. However, reproducible analysis of large multichannel images poses a substantial computational challenge. Here, we describe a modular and open-source computational pipeline, MCMICRO, for performing the sequential steps needed to transform whole-slide images into single-cell data. We demonstrate the use of MCMICRO on tissue and tumor images acquired using multiple imaging platforms, thereby providing a solid foundation for the continued development of tissue imaging software.
Our previous pre-clinical work defined BCL-2 induction as a critical component of the adaptive response to lapatinib-mediated inhibition of HER2. To determine whether a similar BCL-2 upregulation occurs in lapatinib-treated patients, we evaluated gene expression within tumor biopsies, collected before and after lapatinib or trastuzumab treatment, from the TRIO-B-07 clinical trial (NCT#00769470). We detected BCL2 mRNA upregulation in both HER2+/ER- as well as HER2+/ER+ patient tumors treated with lapatinib or trastuzumab. To address whether mRNA expression correlated with protein expression, we evaluated pre- and post-treatment tumors for BCL-2 via immunohistochemistry. Despite BCL2 mRNA upregulation within HER2+/ER- tumors, BCL-2 protein levels were undetectable in most of the lapatinib- or trastuzumab-treated HER2+/ER- tumors. BCL-2 upregulation was evident within the majority of lapatinib-treated HER2+/ER+ tumors and was often coupled with increased ER expression and decreased proliferation. Comparable BCL-2 upregulation was not observed within the trastuzumab-treated HER2+/ER+ tumors. Together, these results provide clinical validation of the BCL-2 induction associated with the adaptive response to lapatinib and support evaluation of BCL-2 inhibitors within the context of lapatinib and other HER2-targeted receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors.
Patient-derived cell lines are often used in pre-clinical cancer research, but some cell lines are too different from tumors to be good models. Comparison of genomic and expression profiles can guide the choice of pre-clinical models, but typically not all features are equally relevant. We present TumorComparer, a computational method for comparing cellular profiles with higher weights on functional features of interest. In this pan-cancer application, we compare ∼600 cell lines and ∼8,000 tumor samples of 24 cancer types, using weights to emphasize known oncogenic alterations. We characterize the similarity of cell lines and tumors within and across cancers by using multiple datum types and rank cell lines by their inferred quality as representative models. Beyond the assessment of cell lines, the weighted similarity approach is adaptable to patient stratification in clinical trials and personalized medicine.
A number of cancer drugs activate innate immune pathways in tumor cells but unfortunately also compromise antitumor immune function. We discovered that inhibition of CARM1, an epigenetic enzyme and cotranscriptional activator, elicited beneficial antitumor activity in both cytotoxic T cells and tumor cells. In T cells, Carm1 inactivation substantially enhanced their antitumor function and preserved memory-like populations required for sustained antitumor immunity. In tumor cells, Carm1 inactivation induced a potent type 1 interferon response that sensitized resistant tumors to cytotoxic T cells. Substantially increased numbers of dendritic cells, CD8 T cells, and natural killer cells were present in Carm1-deficient tumors, and infiltrating CD8 T cells expressed low levels of exhaustion markers. Targeting of CARM1 with a small molecule elicited potent antitumor immunity and sensitized resistant tumors to checkpoint blockade. Targeting of this cotranscriptional regulator thus offers an opportunity to enhance immune function while simultaneously sensitizing resistant tumor cells to immune attack. SIGNIFICANCE: Resistance to cancer immunotherapy remains a major challenge. Targeting of CARM1 enables immunotherapy of resistant tumors by enhancing T-cell functionality and preserving memory-like T-cell populations within tumors. CARM1 inhibition also sensitizes resistant tumor cells to immune attack by inducing a tumor cell-intrinsic type 1 interferon response.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 1861.
PURPOSE: miRNA-155 is an oncogenic miRNA highly expressed in B-cell malignancies, particularly in the non-germinal center B-cell or activated B-cell subtype of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (ABC-DLBCL), where it is considered a potential diagnostic and prognostic biomarker. Thus, miR-155 inhibition represents an important therapeutic strategy for B-cell lymphomas. In this study, we tested the efficacy and pharmacodynamic activity of an oligonucleotide inhibitor of miR-155, cobomarsen, in ABC-DLBCL cell lines and in corresponding xenograft mouse models. In addition, we assessed the therapeutic efficacy and safety of cobomarsen in a patient diagnosed with aggressive ABC-DLBCL. EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Preclinical studies included the delivery of cobomarsen to highly miR-155-expressing ABC-DLBCL cell lines to assess any phenotypic changes, as well as intravenous injections of cobomarsen in NSG mice carrying ABC-DLBCL xenografts, to study tumor growth and pharmacodynamics of the compound over time. To begin to test its safety and therapeutic efficacy, a patient was recruited who underwent five cycles of cobomarsen treatment. RESULTS: Cobomarsen decreased cell proliferation and induced apoptosis in ABC-DLBCL cell lines. Intravenous administration of cobomarsen in a xenograft NSG mouse model of ABC-DLBCL reduced tumor volume, triggered apoptosis, and derepressed direct miR-155 target genes. Finally, the compound reduced and stabilized tumor growth without any toxic effects for the patient. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings support the potential therapeutic application of cobomarsen in ABC-DLBCL and other types of lymphoma with elevated miR-155 expression.
Liver metastasis is a major cause of mortality for patients with colorectal cancer (CRC). Mismatch repair-proficient (pMMR) CRCs make up about 95% of metastatic CRCs, and are unresponsive to immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) therapy. Here we show that mouse models of orthotopic pMMR CRC liver metastasis accurately recapitulate the inefficacy of ICB therapy in patients, whereas the same pMMR CRC tumors are sensitive to ICB therapy when grown subcutaneously. To reveal local, nonmalignant components that determine CRC sensitivity to treatment, we compared the microenvironments of pMMR CRC cells grown as liver metastases and subcutaneous tumors. We found a paucity of both activated T cells and dendritic cells in ICB-treated orthotopic liver metastases, when compared with their subcutaneous tumor counterparts. Furthermore, treatment with Feline McDonough sarcoma (FMS)-like tyrosine kinase 3 ligand (Flt3L) plus ICB therapy increased dendritic cell infiltration into pMMR CRC liver metastases and improved mouse survival. Lastly, we show that human CRC liver metastases and microsatellite stable (MSS) primary CRC have a similar paucity of T cells and dendritic cells. These studies indicate that orthotopic tumor models, but not subcutaneous models, should be used to guide human clinical trials. Our findings also posit dendritic cells as antitumor components that can increase the efficacy of immunotherapies against pMMR CRC.
Treatment-persistent residual tumors impede curative cancer therapy. To understand this cancer cell state we generated models of treatment persistence that simulate the residual tumors. We observe that treatment-persistent tumor cells in organoids, xenografts, and cancer patients adopt a distinct and reversible transcriptional program resembling that of embryonic diapause, a dormant stage of suspended development triggered by stress and associated with suppressed Myc activity and overall biosynthesis. In cancer cells, depleting Myc or inhibiting Brd4, a Myc transcriptional co-activator, attenuates drug cytotoxicity through a dormant diapause-like adaptation with reduced apoptotic priming. Conversely, inducible Myc upregulation enhances acute chemotherapeutic activity. Maintaining residual cells in dormancy after chemotherapy by inhibiting Myc activity or interfering with the diapause-like adaptation by inhibiting cyclin-dependent kinase 9 represent potential therapeutic strategies against chemotherapy-persistent tumor cells. Our study demonstrates that cancer co-opts a mechanism similar to diapause with adaptive inactivation of Myc to persist during treatment.
BACKGROUND: Tumor-specific cytotoxic T cells and T cell receptors are effective tools for cancer immunotherapy. Most efforts to identify them rely on known antigens or lymphocytes that have infiltrated into the tumor bed. Approaches to empirically identify tumor-targeting T cells and T cell receptors by exploiting all antigens expressed on tumor cell surfaces are not well developed for most carcinomas, including pancreatic cancer. METHODS: Autologous tumor organoids were stimulated with T cells from the patients' peripheral blood for 2 weeks to generate the organoid-primed T (opT) cells. opT cell phenotype was analyzed by monitoring changes in the expression levels of 28 cell surface and checkpoint proteins. Expression of ligands of the immune checkpoints was investigated by immunohistochemistry staining. T cells were labeled with carboxyfluorescein succinimidyl ester (CFSE) and assayed by flow cytometry to monitor tumor-induced T cell proliferation changes. opT cell-mediated killing of three-dimensional organoids was measured using an M30 ELISA kit. T cell receptors (TCRs) were identified by deep sequencing of gDNA isolated from T cells, and the TCR specificity was confirmed by transferring TCRs to the T cell line SKW-3 or donor T cells. RESULTS: The co-culture was effective in the generation of CD8 + or CD4+opT cells. The opT cells killed autologous tumors in a granzyme B or Fas-Fas ligand-dependent manner and expressed markers of tissue-resident memory phenotype. Each patient-derived opT cell culture displayed a unique complement of checkpoint proteins. Interestingly, only NKG2A blockade showed a potent increase in the interferon-γ production compared with blocking programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) or programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) or TIM3 or TIGIT or LAG3. Importantly, TCR sequencing demonstrated a dramatic clonal expansion of T cells with a restricted subset of TCRs. Cloning and transferring the TCRs to heterologous T cells was sufficient to confer tumor cell recognition and cytotoxic properties in a patient-specific manner. CONCLUSION: We report a platform for expanding tumor-targeting T cells from the peripheral blood of patients with pancreatic cancer. We identify the NKG2A-HLA-E axis as a potentially important checkpoint for CD8 +T cells for pancreatic cancer. Lastly, we demonstrate empirical identification of tumor-targeting TCRs that can be used for TCR-therapeutics.