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Regulatory T cells (Treg) play a role in suppression of anti-melanoma immunity; however, the exact mechanism is poorly understood. Through intravital two photon microcopy, we found that tumor-specific Pmel-1 effectors engage in cell-cell interactions with tumor resident Tregs. To determine if contact between Tregs and Teff hinders killing of tumor cells in vivo, we utilized ex-vivo three-dimensional collagen-fibrin gel cultures of B16 melanoma cells. Collagen-fibrin gel cultures recapitulated the in vivo suppression, rendering the dissociated tumor resistant to killing by in vitro activated antigen specific T cells. In vivo depletion of Tregs in Foxp3-DTR mice prior to tumor excision reversed the suppression. In vivo modulation of Tregs by GITR ligation had a similar effect, reducing the number of intra-tumor Tregs leading to ex-vivo tumor killing. Using neutralizing antibodies, we found that blocking TGF-β reversed the suppression. In addition, soluble factors from collagen-fibrin gel tumors do not inhibit killing suggesting that suppression is contact or proximity dependent. The CD8 T cells recovered from these gels exhibit a decrease in Granzyme B expression and an increase in expression of T cell exhaustion marker PD-1. These findings support the conclusion that intra-tumor contact with Tregs during the effector phase of the immune response is responsible for inhibiting anti-melanoma immunity in a TGF-β dependent manner shedding light into novel ways to inhibit intratumoral Tregs.
This study was supported by Swim Across America; NIH grants R01CA56821, P01CA33049, and P01CA59350 (to J.W. and A.H.); D.S. and S.B. received support from the NIH/NCI Immunology Training GrantT32 CA09149-30.