Cytokines in immunogenic cell death: Applications for cancer immunotherapy

Cytokine. 2017 Sep;97:123-132. doi: 10.1016/j.cyto.2017.05.024. Epub 2017 Jun 22.


Despite advances in treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, metastatic cancer remains a leading cause of death for cancer patients. While many chemotherapeutic agents can efficiently eliminate cancer cells, long-term protection against cancer is not achieved and many patients experience cancer recurrence. Mobilizing and stimulating the immune system against tumor cells is one of the most effective ways to protect against cancers that recur and/or metastasize. Activated tumor specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) can seek out and destroy metastatic tumor cells and reduce tumor lesions. Natural Killer (NK) cells are a front-line defense against drug-resistant tumors and can provide tumoricidal activity to enhance tumor immune surveillance. Cytokines like IFN-γ or TNF play a crucial role in creating an immunogenic microenvironment and therefore are key players in the fight against metastatic cancer. To this end, a group of anthracyclines or treatments like photodynamic therapy (PDT) exert their effects on cancer cells in a manner that activates the immune system. This process, known as immunogenic cell death (ICD), is characterized by the release of membrane-bound and soluble factors that boost the function of immune cells. This review will explore different types of ICD inducers, some in clinical trials, to demonstrate that optimizing the cytokine response brought about by treatments with ICD-inducing agents is central to promoting anti-cancer immunity that provides long-lasting protection against disease recurrence and metastasis.

Keywords: Cancer; Chemotherapeutics; Danger-Associated Molecular Patterns (Damps); Immunotherapy; Stress response.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alarmins / immunology
  • Alarmins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cell Death / immunology*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / immunology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Stress, Physiological
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology


  • Alarmins
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cytokines