Purpose: Cancer-specific immunotherapy holds great promise as an emerging treatment for advanced colorectal cancer and may be combined with standard chemotherapy to provide a synergistic inhibitory action against tumor cells. To examine the interrelationship between the immune system and chemotherapy, we studied the induction of both CEA, a tumor-associated antigen, and MHC class I, a major component of the antigen presenting system, in response to a number of chemotherapeutic agents.
Methods: The effect of a selection of standard chemotherapeutics on MHC class I and CEA expression in human colorectal cancer cell lines was determined by flow cytometry and semi-quantitative RT-PCR. In addition, studies using mice bearing tumors derived from an injected murine colon cancer cell line were performed to determine if alteration in MHC class I expression occurs in vivo following continuous infusion of chemotherapeutic agents into the peritoneal cavity, as well as to facilitate correlations between expression of this factor and therapeutic effectiveness.
Results: All anti-cancer drugs examined, when given at IC50 values, induced expression of MHC class I protein in the human colon cancer cell line, COLO201. However, expression of CEA mRNA was only induced upon exposure to 5-FU, in contrast to obscure induction following CDDP and SN-38 treatment. Combined treatment with 5-FU and CDDP gave additional effect on CEA expression in COLO201 cells. Regarding the in vivo studies in mice, the size of the murine colon cancer cell-derived tumors was reduced only in response to treatment with CDDP, which also mediated the highest induction of MHC class I expression.
Conclusion: These results suggest that chemotherapeutic agents trigger the immune system and cancer-specific immunotherapy may be effective when used in combination with systemic chemotherapy.