Background: K-Ras mutations are characteristic of human lung adenocarcinomas and occur almost exclusively in smokers. In preclinical models, K-Ras mutations are necessary for tobacco carcinogen-driven lung tumorigenesis and are sufficient to cause lung adenocarcinomas in transgenic mice. Because these mutations confer resistance to commonly used cytotoxic chemotherapies and targeted agents, effective therapies that target K-Ras are needed. Inhibitors of mTOR such as rapamycin can prevent K-Ras-driven lung tumorigenesis and alter the proportion of cytotoxic and Foxp3+ regulatory T cells, suggesting that lung-associated T cells might be important for tumorigenesis.
Methods: Lung tumorigenesis was studied in three murine models that depend on mutant K-Ras; a tobacco carcinogen-driven model, a syngeneic inoculation model, and a transgenic model. Splenic and lung-associated T cells were studied using flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry. Foxp3+ cells were depleted using rapamycin, an antibody, or genetic ablation.
Results: Exposure of A/J mice to a tobacco carcinogen tripled lung-associated Foxp3+ cells prior to tumor development. At clinically relevant concentrations, rapamycin prevented this induction and reduced lung tumors by 90%. In A/J mice inoculated with lung adenocarcinoma cells resistant to rapamycin, antibody-mediated depletion of Foxp3+ cells reduced lung tumorigenesis by 80%. Likewise, mutant K-Ras transgenic mice lacking Foxp3+ cells developed 75% fewer lung tumors than littermates with Foxp3+ cells.
Conclusions: Foxp3+ regulatory T cells are required for K-Ras-mediated lung tumorigenesis in mice. These studies support clinical testing of rapamycin or other agents that target Treg in K-Ras driven human lung cancer.