Purpose: Ionizing radiation can reduce tumor growth outside the field of radiation, known as the abscopal effect. Although it has been reported in multiple malignancies, the abscopal effect remains a rare and poorly understood event. Ionizing radiation generates inflammatory signals and, in principle, could provide both tumor-specific antigens from dying cells and maturation stimuli that are necessary for dendritic cells' activation of tumor-specific T cells. We therefore tested the hypothesis that the abscopal effect elicited by radiation is immune mediated. This was directly tested by enhancing the number of available dendritic cells using the growth factor Flt3-Ligand (Flt3-L).
Methods and materials: Mice bearing a syngeneic mammary carcinoma, 67NR, in both flanks were treated with Flt3-L daily for 10 days after local radiation therapy (RT) to only 1 of the 2 tumors at a single dose of 2 or 6 Gy. The second nonirradiated tumor was used as indicator of the abscopal effect. Data were analyzed using repeated measures regression.
Results: RT alone led to growth delay exclusively of the irradiated 67NR tumor, as expected. Surprisingly, growth of the nonirradiated tumor was also impaired by the combination of RT and Flt3-L. As control, Flt3-L had no effect without RT. Importantly, the abscopal effect was shown to be tumor specific, because growth of a nonirradiated A20 lymphoma in the same mice containing a treated 67NR tumor was not affected. Moreover, no growth delay of nonirradiated 67NR tumors was observed when T cell deficient (nude) mice were treated with RT plus Flt3-L.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate that the abscopal effect is in part immune mediated and that T cells are required to mediate distant tumor inhibition induced by radiation.