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The roles of mast cells in anticancer immunity

Dyana K Dalton, Randolph J Noelle
Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy: CII 2012, 61 (9): 1511-20
22527244
The tumor microenvironment (TME), which is composed of stromal cells such as endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and immune cells, provides a supportive niche promoting the growth and invasion of tumors. The TME also raises an immunosuppressive barrier to effective antitumor immune responses and is therefore emerging as a target for cancer immunotherapies. Mast cells (MCs) accumulate in the TME at early stages, and their presence in the TME is associated with poor prognosis in many aggressive human cancers. Some well-established roles of MCs in cancer are promoting angiogenesis and tumor invasion into surrounding tissues. Several mouse models of inducible and spontaneous cancer show that MCs are among the first immune cells to accumulate within and shape the TME. Although MCs and other suppressive myeloid cells are associated with poor prognosis in human cancers, high densities of intratumoral T effector (T(eff)) cells are associated with a favorable prognosis. The latter finding has stimulated interest in developing therapies to increase intratumoral T cell density. However, cellular and molecular mechanisms promoting high densities of intratumoral T(eff) cells within the TME are poorly understood. New evidence suggests that MCs are essential for shaping the immune-suppressive TME and impairing both antitumor T(eff) cell responses and intratumoral T cell accumulation. These roles for MCs warrant further elucidation in order to improve antitumor immunity. Here, we will summarize clinical studies of the prognostic significance of MCs within the TME in human cancers, as well as studies in mouse models of cancer that reveal how MCs are recruited to the TME and how MCs facilitate tumor growth. Also, we will summarize our recent studies indicating that MCs impair generation of protective antitumor T cell responses and accumulation of intratumoral T(eff) cells. We will also highlight some approaches to target MCs in the TME in order to unleash antitumor cytotoxicity.

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