Elucidation of the mechanisms of T-cell-mediated antitumor responses will provide information for the rational design and development of cancer immunotherapies. Here, we found that calnexin, an endoplasmic reticulum (ER) chaperone protein, is significantly upregulated in oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). Upregulation of its membranous expression on OSCC cells is associated with inhibited T-cell infiltration in tumor tissues and correlates with poor survival of patients with OSCC. We found that calnexin inhibits the proliferation of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells isolated from the whole blood of healthy donors and patients with OSCC and inhibits the secretion of IFNγ, TNFα, and IL2 from these cells. Furthermore, in a melanoma model, knockdown of calnexin enhanced the infiltration and effector functions of T cells in the tumor microenvironment and conferred better control of tumor growth, whereas treatment with a recombinant calnexin protein impaired the infiltration and effector functions of T cells and promoted tumor growth. We also found that calnexin enhanced the expression of PD-1 on CD4+ and CD8+ T cells by restraining the DNA methylation status of a CpG island in the PD-1 promoter. Thus, this work uncovers a mechanism by which T-cell antitumor responses are regulated by calnexin in tumor cells and suggests that calnexin might serve as a potential target for the improvement of antitumor immunotherapy.
©2018 American Association for Cancer Research.