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Keywords:

  • combination immunotherapy;
  • hepatocellular carcinoma;
  • 4-1BB;
  • liver cancer;
  • therapy;
  • MDSC

Immunotherapy is a promising strategy against hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We assessed the therapeutic effects of stimulating CD137, a member of the TNF receptor family, with agonistic monoclonal antibodies (mAb). Agonistic anti-CD137 mAb treatment was tested on two in situ models of HCC in immunocompetent mice. We also studied the mediators involved at different time points. In an orthotopic HCC the treatment consistently leads to complete tumor regression in 40–60% of animals. The protection is long lasting in the animals responding to the treatment, which can reject a second tumor challenge more than 3 months after treatment and eradication of the first malignancy. The main mediators of the effect are T lymphocytes and NK cells, demonstrated through depletion experiments. In addition, adoptive transfer of splenocytes prepared from anti-CD137 mAb-treated and -cured mice to naive mice allowed them to, in turn, reject the tumor. The efficacy of anti-CD137 mAb treatment is associated with early, sustained recruitment of iNOS-positive macrophages within tumor nodules. Moreover, in the absence of treatment, tumor development is accompanied by infiltration by myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSC) and regulatory T lymphocytes. In mice responding to the anti-CD137 mAb treatment, this infiltration is very limited, and a combination treatment with a depletion of MDSC leads to the recovery of 80% of the mice. These results demonstrate that agonistic anti-CD137 mAb is a promising therapeutic strategy for anti-tumor immunity stimulation against HCC.