Upfront dose-reduced chemotherapy synergizes with immunotherapy to optimize chemoimmunotherapy in squamous cell lung carcinoma

J Immunother Cancer. 2020 Oct;8(2):e000807. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2020-000807.


Background: The survival benefits of combining chemotherapy (at the maximum tolerated dose, MTD) with concurrent immunotherapy, collectively referred to as chemoimmunotherapy, for the treatment of squamous cell lung carcinoma (SQCLC) have been confirmed in recent clinical trials. Nevertheless, optimization of chemoimmunotherapy in order to enhance the efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) in SQCLC remains to be explored.

Methods: Cell lines, syngeneic immunocompetent mouse models, and patients' peripheral blood mononuclear cells were used in order to comprehensively explore how to enhance ectopic lymphoid-like structures (ELSs) and upregulate the therapeutic targets of anti-programmed death 1 (PD-1)/anti-PD-1 ligand (PD-L1) monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), thus rendering SQCLC more sensitive to ICIs. In addition, molecular mechanisms underlying optimization were characterized.

Results: Low-dose chemotherapy contributed to an enhanced antigen exposure via the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt/transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B signaling pathway. Improved antigen uptake and presentation by activated dendritic cells (DCs) was observed, thus invoking specific T cell responses leading to systemic immune responses and immunological memory. In turn, enhanced antitumor ELSs and PD-1/PD-L1 expression was observed in vivo. Moreover, upfront metronomic (low-dose and frequent administration) chemotherapy extended the time window of the immunostimulatory effect and effectively synergized with anti-PD-1/PD-L1 mAbs. A possible mechanism underlying this synergy is the increase of activated type I macrophages, DCs, and cytotoxic CD8+ T cells, as well as the maintenance of intestinal gut microbiota diversity and composition. In contrast, when combining routine MTD chemotherapy with ICIs, the effects appeared to be additive rather than synergistic.

Conclusions: We first attempted to optimize chemoimmunotherapy for SQCLC by investigating different combinatorial modes. Compared with the MTD chemotherapy used in current clinical practice, upfront metronomic chemotherapy performed better with subsequent anti-PD-1/PD-L1 mAb treatment. This combination approach is worth investigating in other types of tumors, followed by translation into the clinic in the future.

Keywords: combination; drug therapy; immunotherapy; lung neoplasms; lymphocytes; translational medical research; tumor-infiltrating.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Survival Analysis