NMDAR antagonists suppress tumor progression by regulating tumor-associated macrophages

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2023 Nov 21;120(47):e2302126120. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2302126120. Epub 2023 Nov 15.


Neurotransmitter receptors are increasingly recognized to play important roles in anti-tumor immunity. The expression of the ion channel N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) on macrophages was reported, but the role of NMDAR on macrophages in the tumor microenvironment (TME) remains unknown. Here, we show that the activation of NMDAR triggered calcium influx and reactive oxygen species production, which fueled immunosuppressive activities in tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) in the hepatocellular sarcoma and fibrosarcoma tumor settings. NMDAR antagonists, MK-801, memantine, and magnesium, effectively suppressed these processes in TAMs. Single-cell RNA sequencing analysis revealed that blocking NMDAR functionally and metabolically altered TAM phenotypes, such that they could better promote T cell- and Natural killer (NK) cell-mediated anti-tumor immunity. Treatment with NMDAR antagonists in combination with anti-PD-1 antibody led to the elimination of the majority of established preclinical liver tumors. Thus, our study uncovered an unknown role for NMDAR in regulating macrophages in the TME of hepatocellular sarcoma and provided a rationale for targeting NMDAR for tumor immunotherapy.

Keywords: NMDA receptor; ROS; macrophages; tumor; tumor microenvironment.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms*
  • Memantine
  • Neoplastic Processes
  • Sarcoma*
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Tumor-Associated Macrophages


  • Memantine