Selective BRAF inhibition decreases tumor-resident lymphocyte frequencies in a mouse model of human melanoma

Oncoimmunology. 2012 Aug 1;1(5):609-617. doi: 10.4161/onci.20226.


The development of targeted therapies and immunotherapies has markedly advanced the treatment of metastasized melanoma. While treatment with selective BRAF(V600E) inhibitors (like vemurafenib or dabrafenib) leads to high response rates but short response duration, CTLA-4 blocking therapies induce sustained responses, but only in a limited number of patients. The combination of these diametric treatment approaches may further improve survival, but pre-clinical data concerning this approach is limited. We investigated, using Tyr::CreER(T2)PTEN(F-/-)BRAF(F-V600E/+) inducible melanoma mice, whether BRAF(V600E) inhibition can synergize with anti-CTLA-4 mAb treatment, focusing on the interaction between the BRAF(V600E) inhibitor PLX4720 and the immune system. While PLX4720 treatment strongly decreased tumor growth, it did not induce cell death in BRAF(V600E)/PTEN(-/-) melanomas. More strikingly, PLX4720 treatment led to a decreased frequency of tumor-resident T cells, NK-cells, MDSCs and macrophages, which could not be restored by the addition of anti-CTLA-4 mAb. As this effect was not observed upon treatment of BRAF wild-type B16F10 tumors, we conclude that the decreased frequency of immune cells correlates to BRAF(V600E) inhibition in tumor cells and is not due to an off-target effect of PLX4720 on immune cells. Furthermore, anti-CTLA-4 mAb treatment of inducible melanoma mice treated with PLX4720 did not result in enhanced tumor control, while anti-CTLA-4 mAb treatment did improve the effect of tumor-vaccination in B16F10-inoculated mice. Our data suggest that vemurafenib may negatively affect the immune activity within the tumor. Therefore, the potential effect of targeted therapy on the tumor-microenvironment should be taken into consideration in the design of clinical trials combining targeted and immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't