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, 25 (10), 3074-3083

WNT/β-catenin Pathway Activation Correlates With Immune Exclusion Across Human Cancers


WNT/β-catenin Pathway Activation Correlates With Immune Exclusion Across Human Cancers

Jason J Luke et al. Clin Cancer Res.


Purpose: The T-cell-inflamed phenotype correlates with efficacy of immune-checkpoint blockade, whereas non-T-cell-inflamed tumors infrequently benefit. Tumor-intrinsic WNT/β-catenin signaling mediates immune exclusion in melanoma, but association with the non-T-cell-inflamed tumor microenvironment in other tumor types is not well understood.

Experimental design: Using The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), a T-cell-inflamed gene expression signature segregated samples within tumor types. Activation of WNT/β-catenin signaling was inferred using three approaches: somatic mutations or somatic copy number alterations (SCNA) in β-catenin signaling elements including CTNNB1, APC, APC2, AXIN1, and AXIN2; pathway prediction from RNA-sequencing gene expression; and inverse correlation of β-catenin protein levels with the T-cell-inflamed gene expression signature.

Results: Across TCGA, 3,137/9,244 (33.9%) tumors were non-T-cell-inflamed, whereas 3,161/9,244 (34.2%) were T-cell-inflamed. Non-T-cell-inflamed tumors demonstrated significantly lower expression of T-cell inflammation genes relative to matched normal tissue, arguing for loss of a natural immune phenotype. Mutations of β-catenin signaling molecules in non-T-cell-inflamed tumors were enriched three-fold relative to T-cell-inflamed tumors. Across 31 tumors, 28 (90%) demonstrated activated β-catenin signaling in the non-T-cell-inflamed subset by at least one method. This included target molecule expression from somatic mutations and/or SCNAs of β-catenin signaling elements (19 tumors, 61%), pathway analysis (14 tumors, 45%), and increased β-catenin protein levels (20 tumors, 65%).

Conclusions: Activation of tumor-intrinsic WNT/β-catenin signaling is enriched in non-T-cell-inflamed tumors. These data provide a strong rationale for development of pharmacologic inhibitors of this pathway with the aim of restoring immune cell infiltration and augmenting immunotherapy.See related commentary by Dangaj et al., p. 2943.

Conflict of interest statement

Disclosures: JL: DSMB: TTC Oncology; SAB: 7 Hills, Actym, Alphamab Oncology, Array, BeneVir, Mavu, Tempest; Consultancy: Aduro, Astellas, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Castle, CheckMate, Compugen, EMD Serono, IDEAYA, Immunocore, Janssen, Jounce, Merck, NewLink, Novartis, RefleXion, Spring Bank, Syndax, Tempest, Vividion, WntRx; Research Support: (clinical trials unless noted) AbbVie, Array (Scientific Research Agreement; SRA), Boston Biomedical, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celldex, CheckMate (SRA), Compugen, Corvus, EMD Serono, Evelo (SRA), Delcath, Five Prime, FLX Bio, Genentech, Immunocore, Incyte, Leap, MedImmune, Macrogenics, Novartis, Pharmacyclics, Palleon (SRA), Merck, Tesaro, Xencor

Travel: Array, AstraZeneca, Bayer, BeneVir, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Castle, CheckMate, EMD Serono, IDEAYA, Immunocore, Janssen, Jounce, Merck, NewLink, Novartis, RefleXion

Patents: (both provisional) Serial #15/612,657 (Cancer Immunotherapy), PCT/US18/36052 (Microbiome Biomarkers for Anti-PD-1/PD-L1 Responsiveness: Diagnostic, Prognostic and Therapeutic Uses Thereof)

RB declares no disclosures or conflicts of interest

RS has received consulting fees or honoraria from Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eisai, Exelixis, AstraZeneca, Puma and has research support from Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eisai, MIrati, CytomX.

SS is holding a patent on WNT/b-catenin targeting to enhance anti-tumor immune responses (PCT15/155,099), serves on the SAB on Venn Therapeutics, Tango Therapeutics and consults for TAKEDA, Replimune, Ribon, Torque and Arcus.

T.F.G. has received consultancy fees from Merck, Roche-Genentech, Abbvie, Bayer, Jounce, Aduro, Fog Pharma, Adaptimmune, FivePrime, and Sanofi. T.F.G. has received research support from Roche-Genentech, BMS, Merck, Incyte, Seattle Genetics, Celldex, Ono, Evelo, Bayer, Aduro. T.F.G. has intellectual property/licensing agreements with Aduro, Evelo, and BMS. T.F.G is a co-founder/shareholder with Jounce.

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