Background: Actinic keratosis is a precursor to cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. Long treatment durations and severe side effects have limited the efficacy of current actinic keratosis treatments. Thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) is an epithelium-derived cytokine that induces a robust antitumor immunity in barrier-defective skin. Here, we investigated the efficacy of calcipotriol, a topical TSLP inducer, in combination with 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) as an immunotherapy for actinic keratosis.
Methods: The mechanism of calcipotriol action against skin carcinogenesis was examined in genetically engineered mouse models. The efficacy and safety of 0.005% calcipotriol ointment combined with 5% 5-FU cream were compared with Vaseline plus 5-FU for the field treatment of actinic keratosis in a randomized, double-blind clinical trial involving 131 participants. The assigned treatment was self-applied to the entirety of the qualified anatomical sites (face, scalp, and upper extremities) twice daily for 4 consecutive days. The percentage of reduction in the number of actinic keratoses (primary outcome), local skin reactions, and immune activation parameters were assessed.
Results: Calcipotriol suppressed skin cancer development in mice in a TSLP-dependent manner. Four-day application of calcipotriol plus 5-FU versus Vaseline plus 5-FU led to an 87.8% versus 26.3% mean reduction in the number of actinic keratoses in participants (P < 0.0001). Importantly, calcipotriol plus 5-FU treatment induced TSLP, HLA class II, and natural killer cell group 2D (NKG2D) ligand expression in the lesional keratinocytes associated with a marked CD4+ T cell infiltration, which peaked on days 10-11 after treatment, without pain, crusting, or ulceration.
Conclusion: Our findings demonstrate the synergistic effects of calcipotriol and 5-FU treatment in optimally activating a CD4+ T cell-mediated immunity against actinic keratoses and, potentially, cancers of the skin and other organs.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02019355.
Funding: Not applicable (investigator-initiated clinical trial).