Triple Therapy with MerTK and PD1 Inhibition Plus Radiotherapy Promotes Abscopal Antitumor Immune Responses

Clin Cancer Res. 2019 Dec 15;25(24):7576-7584. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-19-0795. Epub 2019 Sep 20.


Purpose: Radiotherapy (RT) traditionally has been used for local tumor control in the treatment of cancer. The recent discovery that radiotherapy can have anticancer effects on the immune system has led to recognition of its ability to sensitize the tumor microenvironment to immunotherapy. However, radiation can also prompt adverse immunosuppressive effects that block aspects of systemic response at other tumor sites. Our hypothesis was that inhibition of the MER proto-oncogene tyrosine kinase (MerTK) in combination with anti-programmed cell death-1 (α-PD1) checkpoint blockade will enhance immune-mediated responses to radiotherapy.

Experimental design: We tested the efficacy of this triple therapy (Radiation + α-PD1 + α-MerTK mAbs) in 129Sv/Ev mice with bilateral lung adenocarcinoma xenografts. Primary tumors were treated with stereotactic radiotherapy (36 Gy in 3 12-Gy fractions), and tumors were monitored for response.

Results: The triple therapy significantly delayed abscopal tumor growth, improved survival rates, and reduced numbers of lung metastases. We further found that the triple therapy increased the activated CD8+ and NK cells populations measured by granzyme B expression with upregulation of CD8+CD103+ tissue-resident memory cells (TRM) within the abscopal tumor microenvironment relative to radiation only.

Conclusions: The addition of α-PD1 + α-MerTK mAbs to radiotherapy could alter the cell death to be more immunogenic and generate adaptive immune response via increasing the retention of TRM cells in the tumor islets of the abscopal tumors which was proven to play a major role in survival of non-small cell lung cancer patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / therapy
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Lung Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / therapy
  • Mice
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Radiosurgery / methods*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects
  • c-Mer Tyrosine Kinase / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Pdcd1 protein, mouse
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor
  • Mertk protein, mouse
  • c-Mer Tyrosine Kinase