Targeting CD39 in cancer

Nat Rev Immunol. 2020 Dec;20(12):739-755. doi: 10.1038/s41577-020-0376-4. Epub 2020 Jul 29.


The ATP-adenosine pathway functions as a key modulator of innate and adaptive immunity within the tumour microenvironment. Consequently, multiple clinical strategies are being explored to target this pathway for the treatment of cancer; in particular, recent clinical data with CD73 antagonists and inhibitors of A2A receptors have demonstrated the therapeutic potential of modulating this pathway. Now, inhibitors of the ectonucleotidase CD39, the rate-limiting enzyme in the conversion of ATP to immunomodulatory adenosine, are entering clinical trials. Consequently, there is currently a focus on understanding the impact of CD39 enzymatic function on innate and adaptive immunity and how therapeutic modulation of this pathway alters their functional potential within the tumour microenvironment. Recent findings reveal multipronged mechanisms of action of CD39 antagonism that rely not only on preventing the accumulation of adenosine but also on the stabilization of pro-inflammatory extracellular ATP to restore antitumour immunity. Here, we review the impact of CD39 expression and ectonucleotidase activity on immunity with a focus on the setting of oncology. Additionally, we discuss the implications for immunotherapy strategies targeting CD39, including their inclusion in rational combination therapies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / immunology*
  • Apyrase / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity / immunology
  • Immunomodulation / immunology
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Signal Transduction / immunology


  • Antigens, CD
  • Apyrase
  • CD39 antigen