Tumor-associated GM-CSF overexpression induces immunoinhibitory molecules via STAT3 in myeloid-suppressor cells infiltrating liver metastases

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Assumptions that liver immune cells and immunosuppressive pathways are similar to their counterparts in other spaces have led to gaps in our understanding of intrahepatic neoplasm aggressiveness. Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) are potent inhibitors of antitumor immunity and pose a major obstacle to solid tumor treatment. Liver MDSCs (L-MDSCs) associated with liver metastases (LM) are particularly problematic by contributing to intrahepatic immunosuppression that promotes tumor progression. L-MDSCs have been reported to expand in response to granulocyte-macrophages colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and suppress antitumor immunity in LM. To extend these findings, we examined mechanisms of intrahepatic immunosuppression exploited by L-MDSCs. We found that the majority of L-MDSCs co-expressed GM-CSF receptor (GM-CSF-R), indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) and programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1), while demonstrating high levels of signal transducer and activator of transcription factor 3 (STAT3) activation. GM-CSF-secreting tumor cells induced STAT3 phosphorylation in L-MDSCs in addition to expression of IDO and PD-L1. GM-CSF or GM-CSF-R blockade markedly reduced L-MDSC IDO and PD-L1 expression, implicating tumor-derived GM-CSF in supporting L-MDSC-immunoinhibitory molecule expression. Small-molecule inhibitors of Janus-activated kinase 2 (JAK2) and STAT3 also dramatically diminished IDO and PD-L1 expression in L-MDSCs. We determined that STAT3 exerts transcriptional control over L-MDSC IDO and PD-L1 expression by binding to the IDO1 and PD-L1 promoters. Our data suggest that the GM-CSF/JAK2/STAT3 axis in L-MDSCs drives immunosuppression in a model of LM and blockade of this pathway may enable rescue of intrahepatic antitumor immunity.

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