High indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase 1 (IDO) activity is linked to primary resistance to immunotherapy in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

Transl Lung Cancer Res. 2021 Jan;10(1):304-313. doi: 10.21037/tlcr-20-380.


Background: Metabolic profiling in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) may identify key metabolic vulnerabilities and shows enormous discovery potential. Preclinical studies showed that metabolic rewiring in cancer plays an essential role in modulation of immunotherapy response. However, this situation is understudied in the clinical setting. Therefore, we aimed to evaluate the plasma metabolic profile of immune checkpoint inhibitor (CI) responding versus non-responding NSCLC patients. The aim of this project is to identify potential predictive biomarkers for CI response.

Methods: Plasma samples from CI treated NSCLC patients were analysed at baseline and at the first follow up scan by using a broad targeted metabolomics mass spectrometry panel, and were compared to healthy controls. For further validation of identified key alterations high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) for tryptophan (Trp) and kynurenine (Kyn) as indicator of IDO-activity was performed.

Results: Sixty-seven metabolites were significantly altered in NSCLC patients compared to healthy controls. The metabolic profile of patients with primary CI resistance showed an increase in indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) and a decrease in branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) compared to baseline concentrations. Deregulated IDO activity was validated by additional HPLC measurements, which revealed that baseline Trp levels were predictive for CI response. According to receiver operating characteristic (ROC)-analysis baseline Trp levels ≥49.3 µmol/L predicted disease control at the first follow up scan with a sensitivity of 89% and a specificity of 71%.

Conclusions: We showed that NSCLC patients are characterized by a distinct metabolic profile compared to healthy controls. Moreover, metabolic changes during CI therapy were observed. Of those IDO metabolism seemed to play an important role in primary CI resistance. Trp as a surrogate parameter of IDO activity is a promising biomarker in patients undergoing treatment with CIs and might be a future marker in trials investigating IDO inhibitors.

Keywords: Checkpoint inhibitor (CI); indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase (IDO); metabolic profile; non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC); tryptophan (Trp).