Tumor-derived exosomes drive immunosuppressive macrophages in a pre-metastatic niche through glycolytic dominant metabolic reprogramming

Cell Metab. 2021 Oct 5;33(10):2040-2058.e10. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2021.09.002. Epub 2021 Sep 23.


One of the defining characteristics of a pre-metastatic niche, a fundamental requirement for primary tumor metastasis, is infiltration of immunosuppressive macrophages. How these macrophages acquire their phenotype remains largely unexplored. Here, we demonstrate that tumor-derived exosomes (TDEs) polarize macrophages toward an immunosuppressive phenotype characterized by increased PD-L1 expression through NF-kB-dependent, glycolytic-dominant metabolic reprogramming. TDE signaling through TLR2 and NF-κB leads to increased glucose uptake. TDEs also stimulate elevated NOS2, which inhibits mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation resulting in increased conversion of pyruvate to lactate. Lactate feeds back on NF-κB, further increasing PD-L1. Analysis of metastasis-negative lymph nodes of non-small-cell lung cancer patients revealed that macrophage PD-L1 positively correlates with levels of GLUT-1 and vesicle release gene YKT6 from primary tumors. Collectively, our study provides a novel mechanism by which macrophages within a pre-metastatic niche acquire their immunosuppressive phenotype and identifies an important link among exosomes, metabolism, and metastasis.

Keywords: NF-kB; PD-L1; exosomes; glycolysis; immunosuppression; lactate; metastasis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Exosomes* / metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • R-SNARE Proteins / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • R-SNARE Proteins
  • YKT6 protein, human