Background: Immunosuppressive factors such as regulatory T cells (Tregs) limit the efficacy of immunotherapies. Histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors have been reported to have antitumor activity in different malignancies and immunomodulatory effects. Herein, we report the Tregs-targeting and immune-promoting effect of a class I specific HDAC inhibitor, entinostat, in combination with either IL-2 in a murine renal cell carcinoma (RENCA) model or a survivin-based vaccine therapy (SurVaxM) in a castration resistant prostate cancer (CR Myc-CaP) model.
Methods and results: RENCA or CR Myc-CaP tumors were implanted orthotopically or subcutaneously, respectively. Inoculated mice were randomized into four treatment groups: vehicle, entinostat, cytokine or vaccine, and combination. Tregs in the blood were assessed by FACS analysis. Real time quantitative PCR and Western blot analysis of isolated T cell subpopulations from spleen were performed to determine Foxp3 gene and protein expression. The suppressive function of Tregs was tested by T cell proliferation assay. Low dose (5 mg/kg) entinostat reduced Foxp3 levels in Tregs and this was associated with enhanced tumor growth inhibition in combination with either IL-2 or a SurVaxM vaccine. Entinostat down-regulated Foxp3 expression transcriptionally and blocked Tregs suppressive function without affecting T effector cells (Teffs). In vitro low dose entinostat (0.5 µM) induced STAT3 acetylation and a specific inhibitor of STAT3 partially rescued entinostat-induced down-regulation of Foxp3, suggesting that STAT3 signaling is involved in Foxp3 down-regulation by entinostat.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate a novel immunomodulatory effect of class I HDAC inhibition and provide a rationale for the clinical testing of entinostat to enhance cancer immunotherapy.