Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) promotes anti-tumor immune evasion. Specifically, the kinase activity of nuclear-targeted FAK in squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cells drives exhaustion of CD8(+) T cells and recruitment of regulatory T cells (Tregs) in the tumor microenvironment by regulating chemokine/cytokine and ligand-receptor networks, including via transcription of Ccl5, which is crucial. These changes inhibit antigen-primed cytotoxic CD8(+) T cell activity, permitting growth of FAK-expressing tumors. Mechanistically, nuclear FAK is associated with chromatin and exists in complex with transcription factors and their upstream regulators that control Ccl5 expression. Furthermore, FAK's immuno-modulatory nuclear activities may be specific to cancerous squamous epithelial cells, as normal keratinocytes do not have nuclear FAK. Finally, we show that a small-molecule FAK kinase inhibitor, VS-4718, which is currently in clinical development, also drives depletion of Tregs and promotes a CD8(+) T cell-mediated anti-tumor response. Therefore, FAK inhibitors may trigger immune-mediated tumor regression, providing previously unrecognized therapeutic opportunities.
Copyright © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.