Uveal melanoma (UM) is the most common primary cancer of the eye and is associated with a high rate of metastatic death. UM can be stratified into two main classes based on metastatic risk, with class 1 UM having a low metastatic risk and class 2 UM having a high metastatic risk. Class 2 UM have a distinctive genomic, transcriptomic, histopathologic, and clinical phenotype characterized by biallelic inactivation of the BAP1 tumor-suppressor gene, an immune-suppressive microenvironment enriched for M2-polarized macrophages, and poor response to checkpoint-inhibitor immunotherapy. To identify potential mechanistic links between BAP1 loss and immune suppression in class 2 UM, we performed an integrated analysis of UM samples, as well as genetically engineered UM cell lines and uveal melanocytes (UMC). Using RNA sequencing (RNA-seq), we found that the most highly upregulated gene associated with BAP1 loss across these datasets was PROS1, which encodes a ligand that triggers phosphorylation and activation of the immunosuppressive macrophage receptor MERTK. The inverse association between BAP1 and PROS1 in class 2 UM was confirmed by single-cell RNA-seq, which also revealed that MERTK was upregulated in CD163+ macrophages in class 2 UM. Using ChIP-seq, BAP1 knockdown in UM cells resulted in an accumulation of H3K27ac at the PROS1 locus, suggesting epigenetic regulation of PROS1 by BAP1. Phosphorylation of MERTK in RAW 264.7 monocyte-macrophage cells was increased upon coculture with BAP1-/- UMCs, and this phosphorylation was blocked by depletion of PROS1 in the UMCs. These findings were corroborated by multicolor immunohistochemistry, where class 2/BAP1-mutant UMs demonstrated increased PROS1 expression in tumor cells and increased MERTK phosphorylation in CD163+ macrophages compared with class 1/BAP1-wildtype UMs. Taken together, these findings provide a mechanistic link between BAP1 loss and the suppression of the tumor immune microenvironment in class 2 UMs, and they implicate the PROS1-MERTK pathway as a potential target for immunotherapy in UM.
Keywords: BAP1; MERTK; PROS1; macrophage; metastasis; tumor immune microenvironment; uveal melanoma.