STAT3 Activity Promotes Programmed-Death Ligand 1 Expression and Suppresses Immune Responses in Breast Cancer

Cancers (Basel). 2019 Oct 1;11(10):1479. doi: 10.3390/cancers11101479.


Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) is an oncogene and multifaceted transcription factor involved in multiple cellular functions. Its role in modifying anti-tumor immunity has been recently recognized. In this study, the biologic effects of STAT3 on immune checkpoint expression and anti-tumor responses were investigated in breast cancer (BC). A transcriptional signature of phosphorylated STAT3 was positively correlated with PD-L1 expression in two independent cohorts of early BC. Pharmacologic inhibition and gene silencing of STAT3 led to decreased Programmed Death Ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression levels in vitro, and resulted as well in reduction of tumor growth and decreased metastatic dissemination in a mammary carcinoma mouse model. The hampering of tumor progression was correlated to an anti-tumoral macrophage phenotype and accumulation of natural-killer cells, but also in reduced accrual of cytotoxic lymphocytes. In human BC, pro-tumoral macrophages correlated to PD-L1 expression, proliferation status and higher grade of malignancy, indicating a subset of patients with immunosuppressive properties. In conclusion, this study provides evidence for STAT3-mediated regulation of PD-L1 and modulation of immune microenvironment in BC.

Keywords: M2 macrophages, NK cells, STAT3 inhibitor XIII; PD-L1; STAT3; breast cancer.