Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition Regulates Surface PD-L1 via CMTM6 and CMTM7 Induction in Breast Cancer

Cancers (Basel). 2021 Mar 9;13(5):1165. doi: 10.3390/cancers13051165.


CMTM6 is a critical regulator of cell surface expression of PD-L1 in tumor cells, but little is known about the transcriptional regulation of CMTM6. Here we report that the expression of CMTM6 positively correlates with the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) score in breast cancer cell lines and with the major EMT marker Vimentin in triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC). We showed that CMTM6 is concomitantly overexpressed with PD-L1 in breast mesenchymal compared with the epithelial cells. Driving a mesenchymal phenotype in SNAI1-inducible MCF-7 cells (MCF-7Mes cells) increased both PD-L1 and CMTM6. CMTM6 silencing in MCF-7Mes cells partially reduced cell surface expression of PD-L1, indicating that a proportion of the PD-L1 on the surface of MCF-7Mes cells depends on CMTM6. We also found a positive correlation between CMTM3 and CMTM7 expression with EMT score in breast cancer cells, and with Vimentin in TNBC patients. Dual knockdown of CMTM6 and CMTM7 significantly decreased PD-L1 surface expression in MCF-7Mes cells, indicating that both CMTM6 and CMTM7 regulate the expression of PD-L1. This study highlights the importance of CMTM6 and CMTM7 in EMT-induced PD-L1 and suggests that EMT, CMTM6 or CMTM7 modulators can be combined with anti-PD-L1 in patients with highly aggressive breast cancer.

Keywords: CMTM family; breast cancer; epithelial to mesenchymal transition; immune checkpoints; snail1.