Regulatory T cells (Tregs) prevent autoimmunity but limit antitumor immunity. The canonical NF-κB signaling pathway both activates immunity and promotes thymic Treg development. Here, we report that mature Tregs continue to require NF-κB signaling through IκB-kinase β (IKKβ) after thymic egress. Mice lacking IKKβ in mature Tregs developed scurfy-like immunopathology due to death of peripheral FoxP3+ Tregs. Also, pharmacological IKKβ inhibition reduced Treg numbers in the circulation by ∼50% and downregulated FoxP3 and CD25 expression and STAT5 phosphorylation. In contrast, activated cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) were resistant to IKKβ inhibition because other pathways, in particular nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFATc1) signaling, sustained their survival and expansion. In a melanoma mouse model, IKKβ inhibition after CTL cross-priming improved the antitumor response and delayed tumor growth. In conclusion, prolonged IKKβ inhibition decimates circulating Tregs and improves CTL responses when commenced after tumor vaccination, indicating that IKKβ represents a druggable checkpoint.
Keywords: NF-κB pathway; apoptosis; checkpoint inhibition; cross-priming; cytotoxic T cells; melanoma; regulatory T cells; tumor immunology; tumor vaccination.
Copyright © 2017 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.