Mast cell-T cell axis alters development of colitis-dependent and colitis-independent colorectal tumours: potential for therapeutically targeting via mast cell inhibition

J Immunother Cancer. 2022 Oct;10(10):e004653. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2022-004653.


Background: Colorectal cancer (CRC) has a high mortality rate and can develop in either colitis-dependent (colitis-associated (CA)-CRC) or colitis-independent (sporadic (s)CRC) manner. There has been a significant debate about whether mast cells (MCs) promote or inhibit the development of CRC. Herein we investigated MC activity throughout the multistepped development of CRC in both human patients and animal models.

Methods: We analyzed human patient matched samples of healthy colon vs CRC tissue alongside conducting a The Cancer Genome Atlas-based immunogenomic analysis and multiple experiments employing genetically engineered mouse (GEM) models.

Results: Analyzing human CRC samples revealed that MCs can be active or inactive in this disease. An activated MC population decreased the number of tumor-residing CD8 T cells. In mice, MC deficiency decreased the development of CA-CRC lesions, while it increased the density of tumor-based CD8 infiltration. Furthermore, co-culture experiments revealed that tumor-primed MCs promote apoptosis in CRC cells. In MC-deficient mice, we found that MCs inhibited the development of sCRC lesions. Further exploration of this with several GEM models confirmed that different immune responses alter and are altered by MC activity, which directly alters colon tumorigenesis. Since rescuing MC activity with bone marrow transplantation in MC-deficient mice or pharmacologically inhibiting MC effects impacts the development of sCRC lesions, we explored its therapeutic potential against CRC. MC activity promoted CRC cell engraftment by inhibiting CD8+ cell infiltration in tumors, pharmacologically blocking it inhibits the ability of allograft tumors to develop. This therapeutic strategy potentiated the cytotoxic activity of fluorouracil chemotherapy.

Conclusion: Therefore, we suggest that MCs have a dual role throughout CRC development and are potential druggable targets against this disease.

Keywords: CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes; Immune Evation; Immunotherapy; Tumor Escape; Tumor Microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colitis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms*
  • Fluorouracil
  • Humans
  • Mast Cells
  • Mice


  • Fluorouracil