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Keywords:

  • CD40L;
  • IL-10;
  • OX40;
  • T effector memory cells;
  • Treg cells

Abstract

Treg cells maintain the tumor microenvironment in an immunosuppressive state preventing an effective anti-tumor immune response. A possible strategy to overcome Treg-cell suppression focuses on OX40, a costimulatory molecule expressed constitutively by Treg cells while being induced in activated effector T cells. OX40 stimulation, by the agonist mAb OX86, inhibits Treg-cell suppression and boosts effector T-cell activation. Here we uncover the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic activity of OX86 treatment dissecting its distinct effects on Treg and on effector memory T (Tem) cells, the most abundant CD4+ populations strongly expressing OX40 at the tumor site. In response to OX86, tumor-infiltrating Treg cells produced significantly less interleukin 10 (IL-10), possibly in relation to a decrease in the transcription factor interferon regulatory factor 1 (IRF1). Tem cells responded to OX86 by upregulating surface CD40L expression, providing a licensing signal to DCs. The CD40L/CD40 axis was required for Tem-cell-mediated in vitro DC maturation and in vivo DC migration. Accordingly, OX86 treatment was no longer therapeutic in CD40 KO mice. In conclusion, following OX40 stimulation, blockade of Treg-cell suppression and enhancement of the Tem-cell adjuvant effect both concurred to free DCs from immunosuppression and activate the immune response against the tumor.