Increased neoantigens in hypermutated cancers with DNA mismatch repair deficiency (dMMR) are proposed as the major contributor to the high objective response rate in anti-PD-1 therapy. However, the mechanism of drug resistance is not fully understood. Using tumor models defective in the MMR gene Mlh1 (dMLH1), we show that dMLH1 tumor cells accumulate cytosolic DNA and produce IFN-β in a cGAS-STING-dependent manner, which renders dMLH1 tumors slowly progressive and highly sensitive to checkpoint blockade. In neoantigen-fixed models, dMLH1 tumors potently induce T cell priming and lose resistance to checkpoint therapy independent of tumor mutational burden. Accordingly, loss of STING or cGAS in tumor cells decreases tumor infiltration of T cells and endows resistance to checkpoint blockade. Clinically, downregulation of cGAS/STING in human dMMR cancers correlates with poor prognosis. We conclude that DNA sensing within tumor cells is essential for dMMR-triggered anti-tumor immunity. This study provides new mechanisms and biomarkers for anti-dMMR-cancer immunotherapy.
Keywords: DNA sensing; MLH1; MSI; STING; T cell infiltration; cGAS; cancer; checkpoint blockade; cytosolic DNA; mismatch repair.
Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.