EGFR-Mutated Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and Resistance to Immunotherapy: Role of the Tumor Microenvironment

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Jun 10;23(12):6489. doi: 10.3390/ijms23126489.


Lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. About 10-30% of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) harbor mutations of the EGFR gene. The Tumor Microenvironment (TME) of patients with NSCLC harboring EGFR mutations displays peculiar characteristics and may modulate the antitumor immune response. EGFR activation increases PD-L1 expression in tumor cells, inducing T cell apoptosis and immune escape. EGFR-Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors (TKIs) strengthen MHC class I and II antigen presentation in response to IFN-γ, boost CD8+ T-cells levels and DCs, eliminate FOXP3+ Tregs, inhibit macrophage polarization into the M2 phenotype, and decrease PD-L1 expression in cancer cells. Thus, targeted therapy blocks specific signaling pathways, whereas immunotherapy stimulates the immune system to attack tumor cells evading immune surveillance. A combination of TKIs and immunotherapy may have suboptimal synergistic effects. However, data are controversial because activated EGFR signaling allows NSCLC cells to use multiple strategies to create an immunosuppressive TME, including recruitment of Tumor-Associated Macrophages and Tregs and the production of inhibitory cytokines and metabolites. Therefore, these mechanisms should be characterized and targeted by a combined pharmacological approach that also concerns disease stage, cancer-related inflammation with related systemic symptoms, and the general status of the patients to overcome the single-drug resistance development.

Keywords: EGFR mutations; immunotherapy resistance; non-small cell lung cancer; tumor microenvironment; tumor-associated macrophages; tyrosine kinase inhibitor.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • B7-H1 Antigen / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / therapy
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Lung Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Mutation
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors