Navigating metabolic pathways to enhance antitumour immunity and immunotherapy

Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2019 Jul;16(7):425-441. doi: 10.1038/s41571-019-0203-7.


The development of immunotherapies over the past decade has resulted in a paradigm shift in the treatment of cancer. However, the majority of patients do not benefit from immunotherapy, presumably owing to insufficient reprogramming of the immunosuppressive tumour microenvironment (TME) and thus limited reinvigoration of antitumour immunity. Various metabolic machineries and nutrient-sensing mechanisms orchestrate the behaviour of immune cells in response to nutrient availability in the TME. Notably, tumour-infiltrating immune cells typically experience metabolic stress as a result of the dysregulated metabolic activity of tumour cells, leading to impaired antitumour immune responses. Moreover, the immune checkpoints that are often exploited by tumour cells to evade immunosurveillance have emerging roles in modulating the metabolic and functional activity of T cells. Thus, repurposing of drugs targeting cancer metabolism might synergistically enhance immunotherapy via metabolic reprogramming of the TME. In addition, interventions targeting the metabolic circuits that impede antitumour immunity have been developed, with several clinical trials underway. Herein, we discuss how these metabolic circuits regulate antitumour immunity and the possible approaches to targeting these pathways in the context of anticancer immunotherapy. We also describe hypothetical combination treatments that could be used to better unleash the potential of adoptive cell therapies by enhancing T cell metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Drug Repositioning
  • Drug Synergism
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / drug effects
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents