ALKBH5 Drives Immune Suppression Via Targeting AXIN2 to Promote Colorectal Cancer and Is a Target for Boosting Immunotherapy

Gastroenterology. 2023 Aug;165(2):445-462. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2023.04.032. Epub 2023 May 9.


Background & aims: Immune checkpoint blockade therapy benefits only a small subset of patients with colorectal cancer (CRC), and identification of CRC-intrinsic events modulating immune checkpoint blockade efficacy is an unmet need. We found that AlkB homolog 5 (ALKBH5), an RNA N6-methyladenosine eraser, drives immunosuppression and is a molecular target to boost immune checkpoint blockade therapy in CRC.

Methods: Clinical significance of ALKBH5 was evaluated in human samples (n = 205). Function of ALKBH5 was investigated in allografts, CD34+ humanized mice, and Alkbh5 knockin mice. Immunity change was determined by means of flow cytometry, immunofluorescence, and functional investigation. Methylated RNA immunoprecipitation sequencing and RNA sequencing were used to identify ALKBH5 targets. Vesicle-like nanoparticle-encapsulated ALKBH5-small interfering RNA was constructed for targeting ALKBH5 in vivo.

Results: High ALKBH5 expression predicts poor prognosis in CRC. ALKBH5 induced myeloid-derived suppressor cell accumulation but reduced natural killer cells and cytotoxic CD8+ T cells to induce colorectal tumorigenesis in allografts, CD34+ humanized mice, and intestine-specific Alkbh5 knockin mice. Mechanistically, AXIN2, a Wnt suppressor, was identified as a target of ALKBH5. ALKBH5 binds and demethylates AXIN2 messenger RNA, which caused its dissociation from N6-methyladenosine reader IGF2BP1 and degradation, resulting in hyperactivated Wnt/β-catenin. Subsequently, Wnt/β-catenin targets, including Dickkopf-related protein 1 (DKK1) were induced by ALKBH5. ALKBH5-induced DKK1 recruited myeloid-derived suppressor cells to drive immunosuppression in CRC, and this effect was abolished by anti-DKK1 in vitro and in vivo. Finally, vesicle-like nanoparticle-encapsulated ALKBH5-small interfering RNA, or anti-DKK1 potentiated anti-PD1 treatment in suppressing CRC growth by enhancing antitumor immunity.

Conclusions: This study identified an ALKBH5-N6-methyladenosine-AXIN2-Wnt-DKK1 axis in CRC, which drives immune suppression to facilitate tumorigenesis. Targeting of ALKBH5 is a promising strategy for sensitizing CRC to immunotherapy.

Keywords: Colorectal Cancer; DKK1; MDSCs; Wnt/β-Catenin Signaling; m(6)A Modification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AlkB Homolog 5, RNA Demethylase / genetics
  • AlkB Homolog 5, RNA Demethylase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Axin Protein
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Immunosuppression Therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Mice
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • beta Catenin* / genetics
  • beta Catenin* / metabolism


  • beta Catenin
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • AXIN2 protein, human
  • Axin Protein
  • ALKBH5 protein, human
  • AlkB Homolog 5, RNA Demethylase