Esophageal and gastric cancers collectively cause over 1.1 million deaths annually and only 20-30% of patients respond favorably to current therapies. Cellular therapies using invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells are showing promise for patients with other cancers; therefore, we investigated if these cells are altered in esophageal and gastric cancer patients. Flow cytometric analysis of peripheral blood from 139 patients revealed that iNKT cells are depleted from patients with esophageal and gastric adenocarcinoma and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, both before and after treatment. Interrogation of the KMPlot database of transcriptomic data from 876 gastric cancer patients revealed that low CD1d expression is associated with poor prognosis. These observations suggest that therapies that boost CD1d expression and iNKT cell responses may benefit these patients. However, we found that chemotherapies used for esophageal and gastric cancers have adverse effects on iNKT cells in vitro. Cisplatin caused a significant reduction of CD1d expression by esophageal tumor cell lines. Cisplatin, 5-fluorouracil and carboplatin induced dose-dependent apoptosis in primary lines of iNKT cells and inhibited CD1d-dependent interferon-γ production and cytolytic degranulation by viable iNKT cells. Interestingly, cisplatin increased granzyme B and perforin production and decreased the production of the granzyme B inhibitor PI9, which protects cytotoxic cells from self-damage by granzyme B. Thus, cisplatin-induced apoptosis of iNKT cells may be mediated in part by altering granzyme B and PI9 expression. Our data suggest that iNKT cell-based immunotherapies may benefit patients with gastrointestinal cancers, but may be negatively affected by chemotherapies used for these cancers.
Keywords: CD1d; Chemotherapy; Esophageal cancer; Gastric cancer; Immunotherapy; iNKT cells.