Reversing tumor immune suppression with intratumoral IL-12: activation of tumor-associated T effector/memory cells, induction of T suppressor apoptosis, and infiltration of CD8+ T effectors

Mehmet O Kilinc, Karanvir S Aulakh, Raji E Nair, Stacy A Jones, Pascale Alard, Michele M Kosiewicz, Nejat K Egilmez
Journal of Immunology 2006 November 15, 177 (10): 6962-73
A single intratumoral injection of IL-12 and GM-CSF-loaded slow-release microspheres induces T cell-dependent eradication of established primary and metastatic tumors in a murine lung tumor model. To determine how the delivery of cytokines directly to the microenvironment of a tumor nodule induces local and systemic antitumor T cell activity, we characterized therapy-induced phenotypic and functional changes in tumor-infiltrating T cell populations. Analysis of pretherapy tumors demonstrated that advanced primary tumors were infiltrated by CD4+ and CD8+ T cells with an effector/memory phenotype and CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ T suppressor cells. Tumor-associated effector memory CD8+ T cells displayed impaired cytotoxic function, whereas CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ cells effectively inhibited T cell proliferation demonstrating functional integrity. IL-12/GM-CSF treatment promoted a rapid up-regulation of CD43 and CD69 on CD8+ effector/memory T cells, augmented their ability to produce IFN-gamma, and restored granzyme B expression. Importantly, treatment also induced a concomitant and progressive loss of T suppressors from the tumor. Further analysis established that activation of pre-existing effector memory T cells was short-lived and that both the effector/memory and the suppressor T cells became apoptotic within 4 days of treatment. Apoptotic death of pre-existing effector/memory and suppressor T cells was followed by infiltration of the tumor with activated, nonapoptotic CD8+ effector T lymphocytes on day 7 posttherapy. Both CD8+ T cell activation and T suppressor cell purge were mediated primarily by IL-12 and required IFN-gamma. This study provides important insight into how local IL-12 therapy alters the immunosuppressive tumor milieu to one that is immunologically active, ultimately resulting in tumor regression.

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