The Ap-2α/Elk-1 axis regulates Sirpα-dependent tumor phagocytosis by tumor-associated macrophages in colorectal cancer

Signal Transduct Target Ther. 2020 Apr 15;5(1):35. doi: 10.1038/s41392-020-0124-z.


The inhibitory receptor signal regulatory protein-α (Sirpα) is a myeloid-specific immune checkpoint that engages the "don't eat me" signal CD47, which is expressed on tumor and normal tissue cells. However, the profile and regulatory mechanism of Sirpα expression in tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) are still not clear. Here, we found that the expression of Sirpα in TAMs increased dynamically with colorectal cancer (CRC) progression. Mechanistically, CRC cell-derived lactate induced the nuclear translocation of the transcription factor Ap-2α from the cytoplasm in TAMs. Ap-2α functioned as a transcription factor for Elk-1 by binding to the conserved element GCCTGC located at -1396/-1391 in the mouse Elk-1 promoter. Subsequently, the Elk-1 protein bound to two conserved sites, CTTCCTACA (located at -229/-221) and CTTCCTCTC (located at -190/-182), in the mouse Sirpα promoter and promoted Sirpα expression in TAMs. Functionally, the macrophage-specific knockout of Ap-2α notably promoted the phagocytic activity of TAMs and suppressed CRC progression, whereas these effects were prevented by the transgenic macrophage-specific expression of Elk-1, which regulated TAM phagocytosis and CRC development in a Sirpα-dependent manner. Furthermore, we showed that Elk-1 expression was positively correlated with Sirpα expression in TAMs and was associated with poor survival in CRC patients. Taken together, our findings revealed a novel mechanism through which CRC evades innate immune surveillance and provided potential targets for macrophage-based immunotherapy for CRC patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Heterografts
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Phagocytosis / genetics
  • Phagocytosis / immunology
  • RAW 264.7 Cells
  • Receptors, Immunologic / genetics*
  • Transcription Factor AP-2 / genetics*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology
  • Tumor-Associated Macrophages / immunology
  • Tumor-Associated Macrophages / pathology
  • ets-Domain Protein Elk-1 / genetics*


  • Ptpns1 protein, mouse
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Transcription Factor AP-2
  • ets-Domain Protein Elk-1