Imaging the Rewired Metabolism in Lung Cancer in Relation to Immune Therapy

Front Oncol. 2022 Jan 7;11:786089. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2021.786089. eCollection 2021.


Metabolic reprogramming is recognized as one of the hallmarks of cancer. Alterations in the micro-environmental metabolic characteristics are recognized as important tools for cancer cells to interact with the resident and infiltrating T-cells within this tumor microenvironment. Cancer-induced metabolic changes in the micro-environment also affect treatment outcomes. In particular, immune therapy efficacy might be blunted because of somatic mutation-driven metabolic determinants of lung cancer such as acidity and oxygenation status. Based on these observations, new onco-immunological treatment strategies increasingly include drugs that interfere with metabolic pathways that consequently affect the composition of the lung cancer tumor microenvironment (TME). Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging has developed a wide array of tracers targeting metabolic pathways, originally intended to improve cancer detection and staging. Paralleling the developments in understanding metabolic reprogramming in cancer cells, as well as its effects on stromal, immune, and endothelial cells, a wave of studies with additional imaging tracers has been published. These tracers are yet underexploited in the perspective of immune therapy. In this review, we provide an overview of currently available PET tracers for clinical studies and discuss their potential roles in the development of effective immune therapeutic strategies, with a focus on lung cancer. We report on ongoing efforts that include PET/CT to understand the outcomes of interactions between cancer cells and T-cells in the lung cancer microenvironment, and we identify areas of research which are yet unchartered. Thereby, we aim to provide a starting point for molecular imaging driven studies to understand and exploit metabolic features of lung cancer to optimize immune therapy.

Keywords: T-cells (or lymphocytes); immunotherapy; lung cancer; metabolism; molecular imaging; tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Review