Although treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors provides promising benefit for patients with cancer, optimal use is encumbered by high resistance rates and requires a thorough understanding of resistance mechanisms. We observed that tumors treated with PD-1/PD-L1 blocking antibodies develop resistance through the upregulation of CD38, which is induced by all-trans retinoic acid and IFNβ in the tumor microenvironment. In vitro and in vivo studies demonstrate that CD38 inhibits CD8+ T-cell function via adenosine receptor signaling and that CD38 or adenosine receptor blockade are effective strategies to overcome the resistance. Large data sets of human tumors reveal expression of CD38 in a subset of tumors with high levels of basal or treatment-induced T-cell infiltration, where immune checkpoint therapies are thought to be most effective. These findings provide a novel mechanism of acquired resistance to immune checkpoint therapy and an opportunity to expand their efficacy in cancer treatment. SIGNIFICANCE: CD38 is a major mechanism of acquired resistance to PD-1/PD-L1 blockade, causing CD8+ T-cell suppression. Coinhibition of CD38 and PD-L1 improves antitumor immune response. Biomarker assessment in patient cohorts suggests that a combination strategy is applicable to a large percentage of patients in whom PD-1/PD-L1 blockade is currently indicated.
ASJC Scopus subject areas