Immune Suppression in the Tumor Microenvironment

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The identification of tumor-expressed antigens that can be recognized by specific T lymphocytes has made it possible both to study the properties of T cells participating in anti-tumor immune responses in patients and also to develop antigen-specific immunotherapies as a treatment modality. Interestingly, moves toward intervention have proceeded at a faster pace than have investigations toward understanding. In melanoma in particular, many clinical trials of active immunization have been performed, and many of these have shown increases in tumor antigen-specific T cells circulating in the blood. However, clinical responses have been infrequent, arguing that mechanisms of resistance downstream from initial T cell priming may be dominant in many cases. In fact, may patients show spontaneous generation of immune effector cells and/or antibodies, implying that the priming phase has occurred already in such individuals even without vaccination. Recent attention has turned toward mechanisms of immune evasion at the effector phase of the anti-tumor immune response, predominantly within the tumor microenvironment. Evidence is accumulating that T cell-intrinsic hyporesponsiveness or anergy, extrinsic suppression by regulatory cell populations, inhibitory ligands such as PD-L1, soluble factors such as TGF-β, and the activity of nutrient-catabolizing enzymes such as indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO), may contribute to immune escape in different settings. Murine preclinical models have shown that interfering with each of these processes can translate into T cell-mediated tumor control. Clinical studies to estimate the frequency of specific immune evasion mechanisms in individual patients, to correlate specific events with clinical outcome, and to develop strategies to counter resistance mechanisms should receive a high priority.

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