The Liver-Immunity Nexus and Cancer Immunotherapy

Clin Cancer Res. 2022 Jan 1;28(1):5-12. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-21-1193. Epub 2021 Jul 20.


The impact of liver metastases on immune checkpoint-inhibitor effectiveness in patients with solid-tumor malignancies has been the focus of several recent clinical and translational studies. We review the literature describing the immune functions of the liver and particularly the mechanistic observations in these studies. The initial clinical observation was that pembrolizumab appeared to be much less effective in melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients with liver metastasis. Subsequently other clinical studies have extended and reported similar findings with programmed death-1 (PD-1) and programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) inhibitors in many cancers. Two recent translational studies in animal models have dissected the mechanism of this systemic immune suppression. In both studies CD11b+ suppressive macrophages generated by liver metastasis in a two-site MC38 model appear to delete CD8+ T cells in a FasL-dependent manner. In addition, regulatory T-cell (Treg) activation was observed and contributed to the distal immunosuppression. Finally, we discuss some of the interventions reported to address liver immune suppression, such as radiation therapy, combination checkpoint blockade, and Treg depletion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Liver / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms* / drug therapy


  • B7-H1 Antigen