Macrophages are among the most abundant immune cells in colorectal cancer (CRC). Re-educating tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) to switch from protumoral to anti-tumoral activity is an attractive treatment strategy that warrants further investigation. However, little is known about the key pathway that is activated in TAMs. In this study, infitrating CD206+ TAMs in CRC were sorted and subjected to RNA-seq analysis. Differentially expressed genes were found to be enriched in unfolded protein response/endoplasmic reticulum stress response processes, and XBP1 splicing/activation was specifically observed in TAMs. XBP1 activation in TAMs promoted the growth and metastasis of CRC. Ablation of XBP1 inhibited the expression of the pro-tumor cytokine signature of TAMs, including IL-6, VEGFA, and IL-4. Simultaneously, XBP1 depletion could directly inhibit the expression of SIRPα and THBS1, thereby blocking "don't eat me" recognition signals and enhancing phagocytosis. Therapeutic XBP1 gene editing using AAV2-sgXBP1 enhanced the anti-tumor activity. Together, XBP1 activation in TAMs drives CRC progression by elevating pro-tumor cytokine expression and secretion, as well as inhibiting macrophage phagocytosis. Targeting XBP1 signaling in TAMs may be a potential strategy for CRC therapy.
© 2021. The Author(s).