Background: Programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) is a key cell-surface receptor of CD28 superfamily that triggers inhibitory pathways to attenuate T-cell responses and promote T-cell tolerance. As a crucial role in tumor immunity, PD-1 has been a focus of studies in anti-cancer therapy. It has been approved that tumors could exploit PD-1-dependent immune suppression for immune evasion. Considering the wide use of glucocorticoids (GCs) in anti-cancer therapy and their immunosuppressive effects, we explored whether GCs could influence the expression of PD-1.
Results: In our study, we used dexamethasone (DEX) as a model glucocorticoid and demonstrated that DEX could enhance PD-1 expression in a dose-dependent manner. The effects were completely inhibited by the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) antagonist mifepristone (RU486), indicating that the effect of DEX on PD-1 is mediated through GR. We further found the sensitivity to DEX-induced upregulation of PD-1 expression had a significant difference between different T cell subsets, with memory T cells more susceptible to this effect. We also showed that DEX could suppress T cell functions via inhibition of cytokines production such as IL-2, IFN-γ, TNF-α and induction of apoptosis of T cells.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest a novel way by which DEX suppress the function of activated T lymphocytes by enhancing expression of PD-1 and provide an insight into the optimum clinical application of GCs.