Macrophages are essential for the progression and maintenance of many cancers, but their role during the earliest stages of tumor formation is unclear. To test this, we used a previously described transgenic mouse model of wound-induced skin tumorigenesis, in which expression of constitutively active MEK1 in differentiating epidermal cells results in chronic inflammation (InvEE mice). Upon wounding, the number of epidermal and dermal monocytes and macrophages increased in wild-type and InvEE skin, but the increase was greater, more rapid, and more sustained in InvEE skin. Macrophage ablation reduced tumor incidence. Furthermore, bioluminescent imaging in live mice to monitor macrophage flux at wound sites revealed that macrophage accumulation was predictive of tumor formation; wounds with the greatest number of macrophages at day 5 went on to develop tumors. Gene expression profiling of flow-sorted monocytes, macrophages, and T cells from InvEE and wild-type skin showed that as wound healing progressed, InvEE macrophages altered their phenotype. Throughout wound healing and after wound closure, InvEE macrophages demonstrated sustained upregulation of several markers implicated in alternative macrophage activation including arginase-1 (ARG1) and mannose receptor (CD206). Notably, inhibition of ARG1 activity significantly reduced tumor formation and epidermal proliferation in vivo, whereas addition of L-arginase to cultured keratinocytes stimulated proliferation. We conclude that macrophages play a key role in early, inflammation-mediated skin tumorigenesis, with mechanistic evidence suggesting that ARG1 secretion drives tumor development by stimulating epidermal cell proliferation. These findings highlight the importance of cancer immunotherapies aiming to polarize tumor-associated macrophages toward an antitumor phenotype.
©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.