The PD-L1 metabolic interactome intersects with choline metabolism and inflammation

Cancer Metab. 2021 Feb 19;9(1):10. doi: 10.1186/s40170-021-00245-w.


Background: Harnessing the power of the immune system by using immune checkpoint inhibitors has resulted in some of the most exciting advances in cancer treatment. The full potential of this approach has, however, not been fully realized for treating many cancers such as pancreatic and breast cancer. Cancer metabolism influences many aspects of cancer progression including immune surveillance. An expanded understanding of how cancer metabolism can directly impact immune checkpoints may allow further optimization of immunotherapy. We therefore investigated, for the first time, the relationship between the overexpression of choline kinase-α (Chk-α), an enzyme observed in most cancers, and the expression of the immune checkpoint PD-L1.

Methods: We used small interfering RNA to downregulate Chk-α, PD-L1, or both in two triple-negative human breast cancer cell lines (MDA-MB-231 and SUM-149) and two human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cell lines (Pa09C and Pa20C). The effects of the downregulation were studied at the genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic levels. The findings were compared with the results obtained by the analysis of public data from The Cancer Genome Atlas Program.

Results: We identified an inverse dependence between Chk-α and PD-L1 at the genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic levels. We also found that prostaglandin-endoperoxide synthase 2 (COX-2) and transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) play an important role in this relationship. We independently confirmed this relationship in human cancers by analyzing data from The Cancer Genome Atlas Program.

Conclusions: Our data identified previously unknown roles of PD-L1 in cancer cell metabolic reprogramming, and revealed the immunosuppressive increased PD-L1 effect of Chk-α downregulation. These data suggest that PD-L1 regulation of metabolism may be mediated through Chk-α, COX-2, and TGF-β. The observations provide new insights that can be applied to the rational design of combinatorial therapies targeting immune checkpoints and cancer metabolism.

Keywords: Breast cancer; COX-2; Choline kinase alpha; Immune checkpoints; PD-L1.