Reversal of pre-existing NGFR-driven tumor and immune therapy resistance.


Melanomas can switch to a dedifferentiated cell state upon exposure to cytotoxic T cells. However, it is unclear whether such tumor cells pre-exist in patients and whether they can be resensitized to immunotherapy. Here, we chronically expose (patient-derived) melanoma cell lines to differentiation antigen-specific cytotoxic T cells and observe strong enrichment of a pre-existing NGFRhi population. These fractions are refractory also to T cells recognizing non-differentiation antigens, as well as to BRAF + MEK inhibitors. NGFRhi cells induce the neurotrophic factor BDNF, which contributes to T cell resistance, as does NGFR. In melanoma patients, a tumor-intrinsic NGFR signature predicts anti-PD-1 therapy resistance, and NGFRhi tumor fractions are associated with immune exclusion. Lastly, pharmacologic NGFR inhibition restores tumor sensitivity to T cell attack in vitro and in melanoma xenografts. These findings demonstrate the existence of a stable and pre-existing NGFRhi multitherapy-refractory melanoma subpopulation, which ought to be eliminated to revert intrinsic resistance to immunotherapeutic intervention.

More about this publication

Nature communications
  • Volume 11
  • Issue nr. 1
  • Pages 3946
  • Publication date 07-08-2020

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