We have previously reported that tumor antigen-specific DNA vaccination in mice led to an increase in IFNγ-secreting T cells and an increase in tumor expression of PD-L1. Further, we demonstrated that increasing the encoded antigen's MHC-binding affinity led to increased PD-1 expression on antigen-specific CD8(+) T cells. Together these phenomena provided resistance to antitumor immunization that was abrogated with PD-1/PD-L1 blockade. We consequently sought to determine whether similar regulation occurred in human patients following antitumor immunization. Using clinical samples from prostate cancer patients who were previously immunized with a DNA vaccine, we analyzed changes in checkpoint receptor expression on antigen-specific CD8(+) T cells, the effect of PD-1 blockade on elicited immune responses, and for changes in checkpoint ligand expression on patients' circulating tumor cells (CTCs). We observed no significant changes in T-cell expression of PD-1 or other checkpoint receptors, but antigen-specific immune responses were detected and/or augmented with PD-1 blockade as detected by IFNγ and granzyme B secretion or trans vivo DTH testing. Moreover, PD-L1 expression was increased on CTCs following vaccination, and this PD-L1 upregulation was associated with the development of sustained T-cell immunity and longer progression-free survival. Finally, similar results were observed with patients treated with sipuleucel-T, another vaccine targeting the same prostate antigen. These findings provide in-human rationale for combining anticancer vaccines with PD-1 blocking antibodies, particularly for the treatment of prostate cancer, a disease for which vaccines have demonstrated benefit and yet PD-1 inhibitors have shown little clinical benefit to date as monotherapies.
Keywords: DNA vaccine; PD-1; PD-L1; prostate cancer; prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP).