Interferon Signaling Is Diminished with Age and Is Associated with Immune Checkpoint Blockade Efficacy in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Cancer Discov. 2019 Sep;9(9):1208-1227. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-18-1454. Epub 2019 Jun 19.


Immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) therapy, which targets T cell-inhibitory receptors, has revolutionized cancer treatment. Among the breast cancer subtypes, evaluation of ICB has been of greatest interest in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) due to its immunogenicity, as evidenced by the presence of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and elevated PD-L1 expression relative to other subtypes. TNBC incidence is equally distributed across the age spectrum, affecting 10% to 15% of women in all age groups. Here we report that increased immune dysfunction with age limits ICB efficacy in aged TNBC-bearing mice. The tumor microenvironment in both aged mice and patients with TNBC shows decreased IFN signaling and antigen presentation, suggesting failed innate immune activation with age. Triggering innate immune priming with a STING agonist restored response to ICB in aged mice. Our data implicate age-related immune dysfunction as a mechanism of ICB resistance in mice and suggest potential prognostic utility of assessing IFN-related genes in patients with TNBC receiving ICB therapy. SIGNIFICANCE: These data demonstrate for the first time that age determines the T cell-inflamed phenotype in TNBC and affects response to ICB in mice. Evaluating IFN-related genes from tumor genomic data may aid identification of patients for whom combination therapy including an IFN pathway activator with ICB may be required.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 1143.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Antigen Presentation
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / administration & dosage*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / pharmacology
  • B7-H1 Antigen / antagonists & inhibitors
  • CTLA-4 Antigen / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / administration & dosage*
  • Interferon-gamma / pharmacology
  • Interferons / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Xanthones / administration & dosage*
  • Xanthones / pharmacology
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • CD274 protein, human
  • CTLA-4 Antigen
  • CTLA4 protein, human
  • Xanthones
  • vadimezan
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Interferons