Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is an aggressive neoplasm originating from the pleura. Non-epithelioid (biphasic and sarcomatoid) MPM are particularly resistant to therapy. We investigated the role of the GITR-GITRL pathway in mediating the resistance to therapy. We found that GITR and GITRL expressions were higher in the sarcomatoid cell line (CRL5946) than in non-sarcomatoid cell lines (CRL5915 and CRL5820), and that cisplatin and Cs-137 irradiation increased GITR and GITRL expressions on tumor cells. Transcriptome analysis demonstrated that the GITR-GITRL pathway was promoting tumor growth and inhibiting cell apoptosis. Furthermore, GITR+ and GITRL+ cells demonstrated increased spheroid formation in vitro and in vivo. Using patient derived xenografts (PDXs), we demonstrated that anti-GITR neutralizing antibodies attenuated tumor growth in sarcomatoid PDX mice. Tumor immunostaining demonstrated higher levels of GITR and GITRL expressions in non-epithelioid compared to epithelioid tumors. Among 73 patients uniformly treated with accelerated radiation therapy followed by surgery, the intensity of GITR expression after radiation negatively correlated with survival in non-epithelioid MPM patients. In conclusion, the GITR-GITRL pathway is an important mechanism of autocrine proliferation in sarcomatoid mesothelioma, associated with tumor stemness and resistance to therapy. Blocking the GITR-GITRL pathway could be a new therapeutic target for non-epithelioid mesothelioma.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00797719.
© 2021. The Author(s).