Targeting the Kynurenine Pathway for the Treatment of Cisplatin-Resistant Lung Cancer

Mol Cancer Res. 2020 Jan;18(1):105-117. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-19-0239. Epub 2019 Oct 18.


Cisplatin resistance is a major barrier in the effective treatment of lung cancer. Cisplatin-resistant (CR) lung cancer cells do not primarily use glucose but rather consume amino acids such as glutamine and tryptophan (Trp) for survival. CR cells activate the kynurenine (KYN) pathway (KP) to cope with excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and maintain homeostasis for growth and proliferation. Consequently, indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase-1 (IDO1) becomes an essential enzyme for CR cells' survival because it initiates and regulates the first step in the KP. Increased IDO1 activities and ROS levels are found in CR cells versus cisplatin-sensitive lung cancer. Importantly, significantly greater KYN/Trp ratio (P = 0.005) is detected in serum of patients who fail cisplatin when compared with naïve treatment. Knocking down IDO1 using shRNA or IDO1 inhibitors heightens ROS levels and results in a significant growth inhibitory effect only on CR cells and not on cisplatin-sensitive cells. Exposing CR cells to antioxidant (TIRON) results in suppression of IDO1 activity and confers resistance to IDO1 inhibition, indicating an interrelationship between ROS and IDO1. Because KYN plays a critical role in reprogramming naïve T cells to the immune-suppressive regulatory T-cell (T-reg) phenotype, we observed higher expression of TGFβ, FoxP3, and CD4+CD25+ in mice bearing CR tumors compared with tumors from cisplatin-sensitive counterparts. IMPLICATIONS: Findings suggest that the enzyme-inhibitory activity and antitumor efficacy of IDO1 inhibitors rely in part on ROS levels, arguing that IDO1 expression alone may be insufficient to determine the clinical benefits for this class of experimental cancer drugs. Importantly, IDO1 inhibitors may be more suitable to treat patients with lung cancer who failed cisplatin therapy than naïve treatment patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung / drug therapy
  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Lewis Lung / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Lewis Lung / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cisplatin / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase / metabolism
  • Kynurenine / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Kynurenine / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • IDO1 protein, human
  • IDO1 protein, mouse
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Kynurenine
  • Cisplatin