Tumor-mediated inhibition of human dendritic cell differentiation and function is consistently counteracted by combined p38 MAPK and STAT3 inhibition

Oncoimmunology. 2012 Aug 1;1(5):649-658. doi: 10.4161/onci.20365.


Targeting dendritic cells (DC) through the release of suppressive factors is an effective means for tumors to escape immune control. We assessed the involvement of downstream signaling through the JAK2/STAT3 and p38 MAPK pathways in tumor-induced suppression of human DC development. Whereas the JAK2/STAT3 pathway has been pinpointed in mouse studies as a key regulator of myeloid suppression, in human DC this is less well established. We studied the effects of STAT3 inhibition on the suppression of monocyte-derived DC differentiation mediated by a short-list of four predominant suppressive factors and found that pharmacological STAT3 inhibition could only counteract the effects of IL-6. Accordingly, in testing a panel of supernatants derived from 11 cell lines representing various types of solid tumors, STAT3 inhibition only modestly affected the suppressive effects of a minority of supernatants. Importantly, combined interference in the STAT3 and p38 pathways completely prevented inhibition of DC differentiation by all tested supernatants and effected superior DC function, evidenced by increased allogeneic T cell reactivity with elevated IL-12p70/IL-10 ratios and Th1 skewing. Combined STAT3 and p38 inhibition also afforded superior protection against the suppressive effects of primary glioma and melanoma supernatants and induced a shift from CD14(+) cells to CD1a(+) cells in metastatic melanoma single-cell suspensions, indicating a potential for improved DC differentiation in the tumor microenvironment. We conclude that combined interference in the STAT3 and p38 MAPK signaling pathways is a promising approach to overcome tumor-induced inhibitory signaling in DC precursors and will likely support clinical immunotherapeutic strategies.