Autophagy inhibition in cancer therapy: metabolic considerations for antitumor immunity


Julian J. Lum
Deeley Research Centre
BC Cancer Agency
2410 Lee Avenue
Victoria, BC V8R 6V5, Canada
Tel.: +1 250 519 5718
Fax: +1 250 519 2040


Summary:  Tumors and the immune system are intertwined in a competition where tilting the fine balance between tumor-specific immunity and tolerance can ultimately decide the fate of the host. Defensive and suppressive immunological responses to cancer are exquisitely sensitive to metabolic features of rapidly growing tumors, such as hypoxia, low nutrient availability, and aberrant growth factor signaling. As a result, clinical therapies impacting these properties change the in situ antitumor immune response by virtue of disrupting the tumor environment. To compensate for disruptions in cellular metabolism, cells activate autophagy to promote survival. On the basis of this notion, strategies designed to block autophagy in tumor cells are currently being tested in several human clinical trials. However, therapies that impair tumor metabolism must also take into account their effect on lymphocytes activated in the immune response to cancer. Given that a strong antitumor immune response is a positive prognostic factor in overall patient survival, identifying ways to block essential processes in tumor cells and suppressive immune cells while promoting those that are important for a robust immune response are of critical importance. Herein, we review the effects of anti-cancer agents that impact metabolism administered concurrently with autophagy inhibitors on immune cells and consider the implications for patient response to therapy.