Anti-PD-1 and Anti-CTLA-4 Therapies in Cancer: Mechanisms of Action, Efficacy, and Limitations

Front Oncol. 2018 Mar 28;8:86. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2018.00086. eCollection 2018.


Melanoma, a skin cancer associated with high mortality rates, is highly radio- and chemotherapy resistant but can also be very immunogenic. These circumstances have led to a recent surge in research into therapies aiming to boost anti-tumor immune responses in cancer patients. Among these immunotherapies, neutralizing antibodies targeting the immune checkpoints T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4 (CTLA-4) and programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) are being hailed as particularly successful. These antibodies have resulted in dramatic improvements in disease outcome and are now clinically approved in many countries. However, the majority of advanced stage melanoma patients do not respond or will relapse, and the hunt for the "magic bullet" to treat the disease continues. This review examines the mechanisms of action and the limitations of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 and anti-CTLA-4 antibodies which are the two types of checkpoint inhibitors currently available to patients and further explores the future avenues of their use in melanoma and other cancers.

Keywords: biomarkers; cancer; immune checkpoint inhibitors; immunotherapy; melanoma; mode of action; side effects.

Publication types

  • Review