Immune surveillance in melanoma: From immune attack to melanoma escape and even counterattack

Cancer Biol Ther. 2017 Jul 3;18(7):451-469. doi: 10.1080/15384047.2017.1323596. Epub 2017 May 17.


Pharmacologic inhibition of the cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA4) and the programmed death receptor-1 (PD1) has resulted in unprecedented durable responses in metastatic melanoma. However, resistance to immunotherapy remains a major challenge. Effective immune surveillance against melanoma requires 4 essential steps: activation of the T lymphocytes, homing of the activated T lymphocytes to the melanoma microenvironment, identification and episode of melanoma cells by activated T lymphocytes, and the sensitivity of melanoma cells to apoptosis. At each of these steps, there are multiple factors that may interfere with the immune surveillance machinery, thus allowing melanoma cells to escape immune attack and develop resistance to immunotherapy. We provide a comprehensive review of the complex immune surveillance mechanisms at play in melanoma, and a detailed discussion of how these mechanisms may allow for the development of intrinsic or acquired resistance to immunotherapeutic modalities, and potential avenues for overcoming this resistance.

Keywords: Apoptosis; CTLA4; PD1; immune surveillance; immunotherapy resistance; melanoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Cell Movement
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Surveillance*
  • Immunomodulation
  • Immunotherapy
  • Lymphocyte Activation / genetics
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / metabolism
  • Melanoma / immunology*
  • Melanoma / metabolism
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Melanoma / therapy
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Tumor Escape / immunology*