HDAC Inhibition Upregulates PD-1 Ligands in Melanoma and Augments Immunotherapy with PD-1 Blockade

Cancer Immunol Res. 2015 Dec;3(12):1375-85. doi: 10.1158/2326-6066.CIR-15-0077-T. Epub 2015 Aug 21.


Expression of PD-1 ligands by tumors and interaction with PD-1-expressing T cells in the tumor microenvironment can result in tolerance. Therapies targeting this coinhibitory axis have proven clinically successful in the treatment of metastatic melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, and other malignancies. Therapeutic agents targeting the epigenetic regulatory family of histone deacetylases (HDAC) have shown clinical success in the treatment of some hematologic malignancies. Beyond direct tumor cell cytotoxicity, HDAC inhibitors have also been shown to alter the immunogenicity and enhance antitumor immune responses. Here, we show that class I HDAC inhibitors upregulated the expression of PD-L1 and, to a lesser degree, PD-L2 in melanomas. Evaluation of human and murine cell lines and patient tumors treated with a variety of HDAC inhibitors in vitro displayed upregulation of these ligands. This upregulation was robust and durable, with enhanced expression lasting past 96 hours. These results were validated in vivo in a B16F10 syngeneic murine model. Mechanistically, HDAC inhibitor treatment resulted in rapid upregulation of histone acetylation of the PD-L1 gene leading to enhanced and durable gene expression. The efficacy of combining HDAC inhibition with PD-1 blockade for treatment of melanoma was also explored in a murine B16F10 model. Mice receiving combination therapy had a slower tumor progression and increased survival compared with control and single-agent treatments. These results highlight the ability of epigenetic modifiers to augment immunotherapies, providing a rationale for combining HDAC inhibitors with PD-1 blockade.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • B7-H1 Antigen / biosynthesis*
  • B7-H1 Antigen / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Histone Deacetylases / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Melanoma, Experimental / immunology*
  • Melanoma, Experimental / therapy
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Nivolumab
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Ligand 2 Protein / biosynthesis
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / biosynthesis
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology
  • Up-Regulation / immunology


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Cd274 protein, mouse
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Pdcd1 protein, mouse
  • Pdcd1lg2 protein, mouse
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Ligand 2 Protein
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor
  • Nivolumab
  • pembrolizumab
  • Histone Deacetylases