TLR9 agonist acts by different mechanisms synergizing with bevacizumab in sensitive and cetuximab-resistant colon cancer xenografts

Vincenzo Damiano, Rosa Caputo, Sonia Garofalo, Roberto Bianco, Roberta Rosa, Gerardina Merola, Teresa Gelardi, Luigi Racioppi, Gabriella Fontanini, Sabino De Placido, Ekambar R Kandimalla, Sudhir Agrawal, Fortunato Ciardiello, Giampaolo Tortora
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2007 July 24, 104 (30): 12468-73
Synthetic agonists of Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9), a class of agents that induce specific immune response, exhibit antitumor activity and are currently being investigated in cancer patients. Intriguingly, their mechanisms of action on tumor growth and angiogenesis are still incompletely understood. We recently discovered that a synthetic agonist of TLR9, immune modulatory oligonucleotide (IMO), acts by impairing epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling and potently synergizes with anti-EGFR antibody cetuximab in GEO human colon cancer xenografts, whereas it is ineffective in VEGF-overexpressing cetuximab-resistant GEO cetuximab-resistant (GEO-CR) tumors. VEGF is activated by EGFR, and its overexpression causes resistance to EGFR inhibitors. Therefore, we used IMO and the anti-VEGF antibody bevacizumab as tools to study IMO's role on EGFR and angiogenesis and to explore its therapeutic potential in GEO, LS174T, and GEO-CR cancer xenografts. We found that IMO enhances the antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC) activity of cetuximab, that bevacizumab has no ADCC, and IMO is unable to enhance it. Nevertheless, the IMO-plus-bevacizumab combination synergistically inhibits the growth of GEO and LS174T as well as of GEO-CR tumors, preceded by inhibition of signaling protein expression, microvessel formation, and human, but not murine, VEGF secretion. Moreover, IMO inhibited the growth, adhesion, migration, and capillary formation of VEGF-stimulated endothelial cells. The antitumor activity was irrespective of the TLR9 expression on tumor cells. These studies demonstrate that synthetic agonists of TLR9 interfere with growth and angiogenesis also by EGFR- and ADCC-independent mechanisms affecting endothelial cell functions and provide a strong rationale to combine IMO with bevacizumab and EGFR inhibitory drugs in colon cancer patients.

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