The high rate of mortality and frequent incidence of recurrence associated with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) reveal the need for new therapeutic approaches. In this study we evaluated the efficacy of a novel chemoimmunotherapeutic strategy to control HCC and investigated the underlying mechanism that increased the antitumor immune response. We developed a novel orthotopic mouse model of HCC through seeding of tumorigenic hepatocytes from SV40 T antigen (Tag) transgenic MTD2 mice into the livers of syngeneic C57BL/6 mice. These MTD2-derived hepatocytes form Tag-expressing HCC tumors specifically within the liver. This approach provides a platform to test therapeutic strategies and antigen-specific immune-directed therapy in an immunocompetent murine model. Using this model we tested the efficacy of a combination of oral sunitinib, a small molecule multitargeted receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) inhibitor, and adoptive transfer of tumor antigen-specific CD8(+) T cells to eliminate HCC. Sunitinib treatment alone promoted a transient reduction in tumor size. Sunitinib treatment combined with adoptive transfer of tumor antigen-specific CD8(+) T cells led to elimination of established tumors without recurrence. In vitro studies revealed that HCC growth was inhibited through suppression of STAT3 signaling. In addition, sunitinib treatment of tumor-bearing mice was associated with suppression of STAT3 and a block in T-cell tolerance.
Conclusion: These findings indicate that sunitinib inhibits HCC tumor growth directly through the STAT3 pathway and prevents tumor antigen-specific CD8(+) T-cell tolerance, thus defining a synergistic chemoimmunotherapeutic approach for HCC.
Copyright © 2011 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.