Background The degree of immune infiltration in tumors, especially CD8+ T cells, greatly impacts patient disease course and response to interventional immunotherapy. Hence, enhancement of TIL prevalence is a preferred clinical endpoint, one that may be achieved via administration of agents that normalize the tumor vasculature (VN) leading to improved immune cell recruitment and/or that induce the development of local tertiary lymphoid structures (TLS) within the tumor microenvironment (TME).
Methods Low-dose STING agonist ADU S-100 (5 μg/mouse) was delivered intratumorally to established s.c. B16.F10 melanomas on days 10, 14 and 17 post-tumor inoculation under an IACUC-approved protocol. Treated and control, untreated tumors were isolated at various time points to assess transcriptional changes associated with VN and TLS formation via qPCR, with corollary immune cell composition changes determined using flow cytometry and immunofluorescence microscopy. In vitro assays were performed on CD11c+ BMDCs treated with 2.5 μg/mL ADU S-100 (vs PBS control) and associated transcriptional changes analyzed via qPCR or profiled using DNA microarrays. For TCRβ-CDR3 analyses, CDR3 was sequenced from gDNA isolated from enzymatically digested tumors and splenocytes.
Results We report that activation of STING within the TME leads to slowed melanoma growth in association with increased production of angiostatic factors including Tnfsf15 (Vegi), Cxcl10 and Angpt1, and TLS inducing factors including Ccl19, Ccl21, Lta, Ltb and Tnfsf14 (Light). Therapeutic responses from intratumoral STING activation were characterized by increased vascular normalization (VN), enhanced tumor infiltration by CD8+ T cells and CD11c+ DCs and local TLS neo-genesis, all of which were dependent on host expression of STING. Consistent with a central role for DC in TLS formation, ex vivo ADU S-100-activated mCD11c+ DCs also exhibited upregulated expression of TLS promoting factors including lymphotoxin-α (LTA), IL-36, inflammatory chemokines and type I interferons. TLS formation was associated with the development of a therapeutic TIL TCR repertoire enriched in T cell clonotypes uniquely detected within the tumor but not the peripheral circulation in support or local T cell cross-priming within the TME.
Conclusions Our data support the premise that i.t. delivery of STING agonist promotes a pro-inflammatory TME in support of VN and TLS formation, leading to the local expansion of unique TIL repertoire in association with superior anti-melanoma efficacy.
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