Noncoding RNAs and immune checkpoints—clinical implications as cancer therapeutics

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Abstract

A major mechanism of tumor development and progression is silencing of the patient's immune response to cancer-specific antigens. Defects in the so-called cancer immunity cycle may occur at any stage of tumor development. Within the tumor microenvironment, aberrant expression of immune checkpoint molecules with activating or inhibitory effects on T lymphocytes induces immune tolerance and cellular immune escape. Targeting immune checkpoint molecules such as programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) and its ligand PD-L1 with specific antibodies has proven to be a major advance in the treatment of several types of cancer. Another way to therapeutically influence the tumor microenvironment is by modulating the levels of microRNAs (miRNAs), small noncoding RNAs that shuttle bidirectionally between malignant and tumor microenvironmental cells. These small RNA transcripts have two features: (a) their expression is quite specific to distinct tumors, and (b) they are involved in early regulation of immune responses. Consequently, miRNAs may be ideal molecules for use in cancer therapy. Many miRNAs are aberrantly expressed in human cancer cells, opening new opportunities for cancer therapy, but the exact functions of these miRNAs and their interactions with immune checkpoint molecules have yet to be investigated. This review summarizes recently reported findings about miRNAs as modulators of immune checkpoint molecules and their potential application as cancer therapeutics in clinical practice.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) targeting immune checkpoint transcripts are frequently dysregulated in cancers. The use of miRNA mimics and inhibitors could represent an additional way to block immune checkpoint-related pathways in human cancers.

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