Studying Immunotherapy Resistance in a Melanoma Autologous Humanized Mouse Xenograft

Mol Cancer Res. 2021 Feb;19(2):346-357. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-20-0686. Epub 2020 Oct 21.


Resistance to immunotherapy is a significant challenge, and the scarcity of human models hinders the identification of the underlying mechanisms. To address this limitation, we constructed an autologous humanized mouse (aHM) model with hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPC) and tumors from 2 melanoma patients progressing to immunotherapy. Unlike mismatched humanized mouse (mHM) models, generated from cord blood-derived HSPCs and tumors from different donors, the aHM recapitulates a patient-specific tumor microenvironment (TME). When patient tumors were implanted on aHM, mHM, and NOD/SCID/IL2rg-/- (NSG) cohorts, tumors appeared earlier and grew faster on NSG and mHM cohorts. We observed that immune cells differentiating in the aHM were relatively more capable of circulating peripherally, invading into tumors and interacting with the TME. A heterologous, human leukocyte antigen (HLA-A) matched cohort also yielded slower growing tumors than non-HLA-matched mHM, indicating that a less permissive immune environment inhibits tumor progression. When the aHM, mHM, and NSG cohorts were treated with immunotherapies mirroring what the originating patients received, tumor growth in the aHM accelerated, similar to the progression observed in the patients. This rapid growth was associated with decreased immune cell infiltration, reduced interferon gamma (IFNγ)-related gene expression, and a reduction in STAT3 phosphorylation, events that were replicated in vitro using tumor-derived cell lines. IMPLICATIONS: Engrafted adult HSPCs give rise to more tumor infiltrative immune cells, increased HLA matching leads to slower tumor initiation and growth, and continuing immunotherapy past progression can paradoxically lead to increased growth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Melanoma / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays