Rapamycin and hydroxychloroquine combination alters macrophage polarization and sensitizes glioblastoma to immune checkpoint inhibitors

J Neurooncol. 2020 Feb;146(3):417-426. doi: 10.1007/s11060-019-03360-3. Epub 2020 Feb 4.


Introduction: The failure of immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICPi) on glioblastoma (GBM) treatment underscores the need for improving therapeutic strategy. We aimed to change tumor associated macrophage (TAM) from M2 type (anti-inflammatory) to M1 (pro-inflammatory) type to increase the therapeutic response of ICPi. We proposed that combined rapamycin (R) and hydroxychloroquine (Q) preferentially induce M2 cells death, as fatty acid oxidation was their major source of energy.

Methods: Macrophage polarization was characterized on mice and human macrophage cell lines by specific cytokines stimulation with or without RQ treatment under single culture or co-culture with GBM cell lines. Tumor sizes were evaluated on subcutaneous and intracranial GL261 mice models with or without RQ, anti-PD1 mAb treatment. Tumor volumes assessed by MRI scan and proportions of tumor infiltrating immune cells analyzed by flow cytometry were compared.

Results: In vitro RQ treatment decreased the macrophages polarization of M2, increased the phagocytic ability, and increased the lipid droplets accumulation. RQ treatment decreased the expression levels of CD47 and SIRPα on tumor cells and macrophage cells in co-culture experiments. The combination of RQ and anti-PD1 treatment was synergistic in action. Enhanced the intra-tumoral M1/M2 ratio, the CD8/CD4 ratio in the intracranial GL261 tumor model after RQ treatment were evident.

Conclusion: We provide a rationale for manipulating the macrophage phenotype and increased the therapeutic effect of ICPi. To re-educate and re-empower the TAM/microglia opens an interesting avenue for GBM treatment.

Keywords: Anti-PD1; Glioblastoma; Hydroxychloroquine; Macrophage polarization; Rapamycin.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / administration & dosage
  • Brain Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Cell Polarity / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Glioblastoma / immunology*
  • Glioblastoma / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydroxychloroquine / administration & dosage*
  • Macrophages / drug effects*
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Sirolimus / administration & dosage*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Sirolimus