Hypoxia Regulates the Differentiation and Anti-Tumor Effector Functions of γδT Cells in Oral Cancer

Clin Exp Immunol. 2020 Jul;201(1):40-57. doi: 10.1111/cei.13436. Epub 2020 May 18.


Hypoxia within the tumor microenvironment (TME) is a key factor contributing to immunosuppression in tumors, co-relating with poor treatment outcome and decreased overall survival in advanced oral cancer (OC) patients. Vδ2 is a dominant subset of gamma delta T cells (γδT cells) present in the peripheral blood which exhibits potent anti-tumor cytotoxicity and is evolving as a key player of anti-cancer cellular therapy. However, the fate of γδT cells in hypoxic oral tumors remains elusive. In the present study, we compared the effect of hypoxia (1% O2 ) and normoxia (21% O2 ) on the expansion, proliferation, activation status, cytokine secretion and cytotoxicity of γδT cells isolated from OC patients and healthy individuals. Hypoxia-exposed γδT cells exhibited reduced cytotoxicity against oral tumor cells. Our data demonstrated that hypoxia reduces the calcium efflux and the expression of degranulation marker CD107a in γδT cells, which explains the decreased anti-tumor cytotoxicity of γδT cells observed under hypoxia. Hypoxia-exposed γδT cells differentiated to γδT17 [γδ T cells that produce interleukin (IL)-17] cells, which corroborated our observations of increased γδT17 cells observed in the oral tumors. Co-culture of γδT cells with CD8 T cells in the presence of hypoxia showed that programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1)high γδT cells brought about apoptosis of programmed cell death 1 (PD-1)high CD8 T cells which could be significantly reversed upon blocking PD-1. Thus, future immunotherapeutic treatment modality for oral cancer may use a combined approach of blocking the PD-1/PD-L1 signaling and targeting hypoxia-inducible factor 1α, which may help in reversing hypoxia-induced immunosuppression.

Keywords: hypoxia-induced immune dysfunction; tumor microenvironment; γδT cells; γδT17.