Reactivation of dormant anti-tumor immunity - a clinical perspective of therapeutic immune checkpoint modulation

Cell Commun Signal. 2017 Jan 19;15(1):5. doi: 10.1186/s12964-016-0155-9.


In favor of their outgrowth, cancer cells must resist immune surveillance and edit the immune response. Cancer immunoediting is characterized by fundamental changes in the cellular composition and the inflammatory cytokine profiles in the microenvironment of the primary tumor and metastatic niches, with an ever increasing complexity of interactions between tumor cells and the immune system. Recent data suggest that genetic instability and immunoediting are not necessarily disparate processes. Increasing mutational load may be associated with multiple neoepitopes expressed by the tumor cells and thus increased chances for the immune system to recognize and combat these cells. At the same time the immune system is more and more suppressed and exhausted by this process. Consequently, immune checkpoint modulation may have the potential to be most successful in genetically highly altered and usually extremely unfavorable types of cancer. Moreover, the fact that epitopes recognized by the immune system are preferentially encoded by passenger gene mutations opens windows of synergy in targeting cancer-specific signaling pathways by small molecules simultaneously with antibodies modifying T-cell activation or exhaustion.This review covers some aspects of the current understanding of the immunological basis necessary to understand the rapidly developing therapeutic endeavours in cancer treatment, the clinical achievements made, and raises some burning questions for translational research in this field.

Keywords: Cancer; Checkpoint inhibitor; Exhaustion; Immunoediting; Mutational load; T cell repertoire.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Humans
  • Immunity*
  • Immunotherapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Translational Research, Biomedical