The PD-1/PD-L1 Axis: An Immune-Mediated Mechanism of Chemoresistance in Cancer
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The ability of tumour cells to avoid immune destruction (immune escape) and their acquired resistance to anti-cancer drugs constitute important barriers to the successful management of cancer. The interaction between specific molecules on the surface of tumour cells with their corresponding receptors on immune effector cells can result in inhibition of these effector cells, consequently allowing tumour cells to evade the host’s anti-tumour immune response. The interaction of the Programmed Death Ligand 1 (PD-L1) on the surface of tumour cells with the Programmed Death-1 (PD-1) receptor on cytotoxic T lymphocytes leads to inactivation of these immune effectors, and is a specific example of an immune escape mechanism tumour cells use to avoid immune destruction. Clinically, antibodies capable of blocking the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction have demonstrated significant therapeutic benefit, and are currently being used to help bolster patients’ immune response against malignant cells in a variety of cancer types. Here we show that the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction also leads to tumour cell resistance to conventional chemotherapeutic agents. Incubation of PD-L1-expressing human and mouse tumour cells with PD-1-expressing Jurkat T cells or purified recombinant PD-1 resulted in tumour cell resistance to doxorubicin and docetaxel. Interference with the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction using blocking anti-PD-1 or anti-PD-L1 antibody or shRNA-mediated gene silencing resulted in attenuation of PD-1/PD-L1-mediated drug resistance. Moreover, inhibition of the PD-1/PD-L1 signalling axis using anti-PD-1 antibody enhanced the effect of doxorubicin chemotherapy to inhibit 4T1 tumour cell metastasis in an in vivo mouse model of mammary carcinoma. These findings indicate that blockade of the PD-1/PD-L1 axis may be a useful approach to immunosensitize and chemosensitize tumours in cancer patients and provide a rationale for the use of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 antibodies as adjuvants to chemotherapy.