Immunostimulatory effects of targeted thorium-227 conjugates as single agent and in combination with anti-PD-L1 therapy

J Immunother Cancer. 2021 Oct;9(10):e002387. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2021-002387.


Background: Targeted thorium-227 conjugates (TTCs) are an emerging class of targeted alpha therapies (TATs). Their unique mode of action (MoA) is the induction of difficult-to-repair clustered DNA double-strand breaks. However, thus far, their effects on the immune system are largely unknown. Here, we investigated the immunostimulatory effects of the mesothelin-targeted thorium-227 conjugate (MSLN-TTC) in vitro and in vivo in monotherapy and in combination with an inhibitor of the immune checkpoint programmed death receptor ligand 1 (PD-L1) in immunocompetent mice.

Methods: The murine cell line MC38 was transfected with the human gene encoding for MSLN (hMSLN) to enable binding of the non-cross-reactive MSLN-TTC. The immunostimulatory effects of MSLN-TTC were studied in vitro on human cancer cell lines and MC38-hMSLN cells. The efficacy and MoA of MSLN-TTC were studied in vivo as monotherapy or in combination with anti-PD-L1 in MC38-hMSLN tumor-bearing immunocompetent C57BL/6 mice. Experiments were supported by RNA sequencing, flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry, mesoscale, and TaqMan PCR analyses to study the underlying immunostimulatory effects. In vivo depletion of CD8+ T cells and studies with Rag2/Il2Rg double knockout C57BL/6 mice were conducted to investigate the importance of immune cells to the efficacy of MSLN-TTC.

Results: MSLN-TTC treatment induced upregulation of DNA sensing pathway transcripts (IL-6, CCL20, CXCL10, and stimulator of interferon genes (STING)-related genes) in vitro as determined by RNASeq analysis. The results, including phospho-STING activation, were confirmed on the protein level. Danger-associated molecular pattern molecules were upregulated in parallel, leading to dendritic cell (DC) activation in vitro. MSLN-TTC showed strong antitumor activity (T:C 0.38, p<0.05) as a single agent in human MSLN-expressing MC38 tumor-bearing immunocompetent mice. Combining MSLN-TTC with anti-PD-L1 further enhanced the efficacy (T:C 0.08, p<0.001) as evidenced by the increased number of tumor-free surviving animals. MSLN-TTC monotherapy caused migration of CD103+ cDC1 DCs and infiltration of CD8+ T cells into tumors, which was enhanced on combination with anti-PD-L1. Intriguingly, CD8+ T-cell depletion decreased antitumor efficacy.

Conclusions: These in vitro and in vivo data on MSLN-TTC demonstrate that the MoA of TTCs involves activation of the immune system. The findings are of relevance for other targeted radiotherapies and may guide clinical combination strategies.

Keywords: gene expression profiling; immunotherapy; radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B7-H1 Antigen / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Immunoconjugates / pharmacology
  • Immunoconjugates / therapeutic use*
  • Immunotherapy
  • Mice
  • Thorium / pharmacology
  • Thorium / therapeutic use*
  • Transfection
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Immunoconjugates
  • Thorium-227
  • Thorium