Pharmacological Wnt ligand inhibition overcomes key tumor-mediated resistance pathways to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy

Cell Rep. 2021 May 4;35(5):109071. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109071.


While immune checkpoint blockade is associated with prolonged responses in multiple cancers, most patients still do not benefit from this therapeutic strategy. The Wnt-β-catenin pathway is associated with diminished T cell infiltration; however, activating mutations are rare, implicating a role for autocrine/paracrine Wnt ligand-driven signaling in immune evasion. In this study, we show that proximal mediators of the Wnt signaling pathway are associated with anti-PD-1 resistance, and pharmacologic inhibition of Wnt ligand signaling supports anti-PD-1 efficacy by reversing dendritic cell tolerization and the recruitment of granulocytic myeloid-derived suppressor cells in autochthonous tumor models. We further demonstrate that the inhibition of Wnt signaling promotes the development of a tumor microenvironment that is more conducive to favorable responses to checkpoint blockade in cancer patients. These findings support a rationale for Wnt ligand-focused treatment approaches in future immunotherapy clinical trials and suggest a strategy for selecting those tumors more responsive to Wnt inhibition.

Keywords: Wnt inhibition; Wnt-β-catenin pathway; anti-PD-1 resistance; dendritic cells; indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase; melanoma; myeloid-deriver suppressor cells; non-small cell lung cancer; regulatory T cells; tumor immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Ligands*
  • Mice
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Wnt1 Protein / metabolism*


  • Ligands
  • Wnt1 Protein