Introduction: Immune checkpoints are regulatory pathways induced in activated T lymphocytes that regulate antigen responsiveness. These immune checkpoints are hijacked by tumors to promote dysfunction of anti-tumor effector cells and consequently of tumor escape from the host immune system.
Areas covered: Programmed death-1/programmed death ligand (PD-1/PDL-1), a checkpoint pathway, has been extensively investigated in leukemia mouse models. Expression of PD-1 on the surface of activated immune cells and of its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2, on leukemic blasts has been documented. Clinical trials with PD-1 inhibitors in patients with hematological malignancies are ongoing with promising clinical responses.
Expert opinion: Therapy of hematological cancers with antibodies blocking inhibitory receptors is expected to be highly clinically effective. Checkpoint inhibitory receptors and their ligands are co-expressed on hematopoietic cells found in the leukemic milieu. Several distinct immunological mechanisms are likely to be engaged by antibody-based checkpoint blockade. Co-expression of multiple inhibitory receptors on hematopoietic cells offers an opportunity for combining blocking antibodies to achieve more effective therapy. Up-regulation of receptor/ligand expression in the leukemic milieu may provide a blood marker predictive of response. Finally, chemotherapy-induced up-regulation of PD-1 on T cells after conventional leukemia therapy creates a solid rationale for application of checkpoint blockade as a follow-up therapy.
Keywords: acute myeloid leukemia; checkpoint inhibition; immunotherapy; programmed death-1.