Targeting the Complement Pathway as a Therapeutic Strategy in Lung Cancer

Front Immunol. 2019 May 10;10:954. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.00954. eCollection 2019.


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women. Lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD), represents approximately 40% of all lung cancer cases. Advances in recent years, such as the identification of oncogenes and the use of immunotherapies, have changed the treatment of LUAD. Yet survival rates still remain low. Additionally, there is still a gap in understanding the molecular and cellular interactions between cancer cells and the immune tumor microenvironment (TME). Defining how cancer cells with distinct oncogenic drivers interact with the TME and new strategies for enhancing anti-tumor immunity are greatly needed. The complement cascade, a central part of the innate immune system, plays an important role in regulation of adaptive immunity. Initially it was proposed that complement activation on the surface of cancer cells would inhibit cancer progression via membrane attack complex (MAC)-dependent killing. However, data from several groups have shown that complement activation promotes cancer progression, probably through the actions of anaphylatoxins (C3a and C5a) on the TME and engagement of immunoevasive pathways. While originally shown to be produced in the liver, recent studies show localized complement production in numerous cell types including immune cells and tumor cells. These results suggest that complement inhibitory drugs may represent a powerful new approach for treatment of NSCLC, and numerous new anti-complement drugs are in clinical development. However, the mechanisms by which complement is activated and affects tumor progression are not well understood. Furthermore, the role of local complement production vs. systemic activation has not been carefully examined. This review will focus on our current understanding of complement action in LUAD, and describe gaps in our knowledge critical for advancing complement therapy into the clinic.

Keywords: complement-immunological terms; immunotherapy; lung cancer; microenvironment; oncogene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / immunology*
  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung / drug therapy
  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung / genetics
  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / immunology*
  • Complement Activation / immunology*
  • Complement C3a / immunology
  • Complement C5a / immunology
  • Complement Inactivating Agents / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms / immunology*


  • Complement Inactivating Agents
  • Complement C3a
  • Complement C5a