Background: Tumor immune tolerance can derive from the recruitment of suppressor cell populations, including myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC). In cancer patients, MDSC accumulation correlates with increased tumor burden, but the mechanisms of MDSC induction remain poorly understood.
Methods: This study examined the ability of human tumor cell lines to induce MDSC from healthy donor PBMC using in vitro co-culture methods. These human MDSC were then characterized for morphology, phenotype, gene expression, and function.
Results: Of over 100 tumor cell lines examined, 45 generated canonical CD33+HLA-DR(low)Lineage- MDSC, with high frequency of induction by cervical, ovarian, colorectal, renal cell, and head and neck carcinoma cell lines. CD33+ MDSC could be induced by cancer cell lines from all tumor types with the notable exception of those derived from breast cancer (0/9, regardless of hormone and HER2 status). Upon further examination, these and others with infrequent CD33+ MDSC generation were found to induce a second subset characterized as CD11b+CD33(low)HLA-DR(low)Lineage-. Gene and protein expression, antibody neutralization, and cytokine-induction studies determined that the induction of CD33+ MDSC depended upon over-expression of IL-1β, IL-6, TNFα, VEGF, and GM-CSF, while CD11b+ MDSC induction correlated with over-expression of FLT3L and TGFβ. Morphologically, both CD33+ and CD11b+ MDSC subsets appeared as immature myeloid cells and had significantly up-regulated expression of iNOS, NADPH oxidase, and arginase-1 genes. Furthermore, increased expression of transcription factors HIF1α, STAT3, and C/EBPβ distinguished MDSC from normal counterparts.
Conclusions: These studies demonstrate the universal nature of MDSC induction by human solid tumors and characterize two distinct MDSC subsets: CD33+HLA-DR(low)HIF1α+/STAT3+ and CD11b+HLA-DR(low)C/EBPβ+, which should enable the development of novel diagnostic and therapeutic reagents for cancer immunotherapy.