Neutrophil extracellular traps induced by chemotherapy inhibit tumor growth in murine models of colorectal cancer

J Clin Invest. 2024 Jan 9;134(5):e175031. doi: 10.1172/JCI175031.


Neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), a web-like structure of cytosolic and granule proteins assembled on decondensed chromatin, kill pathogens and cause tissue damage in diseases. Whether NETs can kill cancer cells is unexplored. Here, we report that a combination of glutaminase inhibitor CB-839 and 5-FU inhibited the growth of PIK3CA-mutant colorectal cancers (CRCs) in xenograft, syngeneic, and genetically engineered mouse models in part through NETs. Disruption of NETs by either DNase I treatment or depletion of neutrophils in CRCs attenuated the efficacy of the drug combination. Moreover, NETs were present in tumor biopsies from patients treated with the drug combination in a phase II clinical trial. Increased NET levels in tumors were associated with longer progression-free survival. Mechanistically, the drug combination induced the expression of IL-8 preferentially in PIK3CA-mutant CRCs to attract neutrophils into the tumors. Further, the drug combination increased the levels of ROS in neutrophils, thereby inducing NETs. Cathepsin G (CTSG), a serine protease localized in NETs, entered CRC cells through the RAGE cell surface protein. The internalized CTSG cleaved 14-3-3 proteins, released BAX, and triggered apoptosis in CRC cells. Thus, our studies illuminate a previously unrecognized mechanism by which chemotherapy-induced NETs kill cancer cells.

Keywords: Colorectal cancer; Neutrophils; Oncogenes; Oncology.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Combinations
  • Extracellular Traps*
  • Humans
  • Mice


  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Drug Combinations