Background: Worldwide, lung cancer kills more people than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined. Alterations in macrophage number and function during lung tumorigenesis suggest that these immune effector cells stimulate lung cancer growth. Evidence from cancer models in other tissues suggests that cancer cells actively recruit growth factor-producing macrophages through a reciprocal signaling pathway. While the levels of lung macrophages increase during tumor progression in mouse models of lung cancer, and high pulmonary macrophage content correlates with a poor prognosis in human non-small cell lung cancer, the specific role of alveolar macrophages in lung tumorigenesis is not clear.
Methods: After culturing either an immortalized lung macrophage cell line or primary murine alveolar macrophages from naïve and lung-tumor bearing mice with primary tumor isolates and immortalized cell lines, the effects on epithelial proliferation and cellular kinase activation were determined. Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) was quantified by ELISA, and macrophage conditioned media IGF-1 levels manipulated by IL-4 treatment, immuno-depletion and siRNA transfection.
Results: Primary macrophages from both naïve and lung-tumor bearing mice stimulated epithelial cell proliferation. The lungs of tumor-bearing mice contained 3.5-times more IGF-1 than naïve littermates, and media conditioned by freshly isolated tumor-educated macrophages contained more IGF-1 than media conditioned by naïve macrophages; IL-4 stimulated IGF-1 production by both macrophage subsets. The ability of macrophage conditioned media to stimulate neoplastic proliferation correlated with media IGF-1 levels, and recombinant IGF-1 alone was sufficient to induce epithelial proliferation in all cell lines evaluated. Macrophage-conditioned media and IGF-1 stimulated lung tumor cell growth in an additive manner, while EGF had no effect. Macrophage-derived factors increased p-Erk1/2, p-Akt and cyclin D1 levels in neoplastic cells, and the combined inhibition of both MEK and PI3K ablated macrophage-mediated increases in epithelial growth.
Conclusions: Macrophages produce IGF-1 which directly stimulates neoplastic proliferation through Erk and Akt activation. This observation suggests that combining macrophage ablation therapy with IGF-1R, MEK and/or PI3K inhibition could improve therapeutic response in human lung cancer. Exploring macrophage-based intervention could be a fruitful avenue for future research.