PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitors have produced encouraging results in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, what determines resistance to anti-PD-1 therapies is unclear. We created a novel genetically engineered mouse model of HCC that enables interrogation of how different genetic alterations affect immune surveillance and response to immunotherapies. Expression of exogenous antigens in MYC;Trp53 -/- HCCs led to T cell-mediated immune surveillance, which was accompanied by decreased tumor formation and increased survival. Some antigen-expressing MYC;Trp53 -/- HCCs escaped the immune system by upregulating the β-catenin (CTNNB1) pathway. Accordingly, expression of exogenous antigens in MYC;CTNNB1 HCCs had no effect, demonstrating that β-catenin promoted immune escape, which involved defective recruitment of dendritic cells and consequently impaired T-cell activity. Expression of chemokine CCL5 in antigen-expressing MYC;CTNNB1 HCCs restored immune surveillance. Finally, β-catenin-driven tumors were resistant to anti-PD-1. In summary, β-catenin activation promotes immune escape and resistance to anti-PD-1 and could represent a novel biomarker for HCC patient exclusion. SIGNIFICANCE: Determinants of response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapies in HCC are poorly understood. Using a novel mouse model of HCC, we show that β-catenin activation promotes immune evasion and resistance to anti-PD-1 therapy and could potentially represent a novel biomarker for HCC patient exclusion.See related commentary by Berraondo et al., p. 1003.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 983.
©2019 American Association for Cancer Research.