Melanoma dedifferentiation has been reported to be a state of cellular resistance to targeted therapies and immunotherapies as cancer cells revert to a more primitive cellular phenotype. Here, we show that, counterintuitively, the biopsies of patient tumors that responded to anti-programmed cell death 1 (anti-PD-1) therapy had decreased expression of melanocytic markers and increased neural crest markers, suggesting treatment-induced dedifferentiation. When modeling the effects in vitro, we documented that melanoma cell lines that were originally differentiated underwent a process of neural crest dedifferentiation when continuously exposed to IFN-γ, through global chromatin landscape changes that led to enrichment in specific hyperaccessible chromatin regions. The IFN-γ-induced dedifferentiation signature corresponded with improved outcomes in patients with melanoma, challenging the notion that neural crest dedifferentiation is entirely an adverse phenotype.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01621490.
Keywords: Cancer immunotherapy; Cytokines; Oncology.