Background and Aims: Activation of the antitumor immune response using programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) blockade showed benefit only in a fraction of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Combining PD-1 blockade with antiangiogenesis has shown promise in substantially increasing the fraction of patients with HCC who respond to treatment, but the mechanism of this interaction is unknown. Approach and Results: We recapitulated these clinical outcomes using orthotopic—grafted or induced—murine models of HCC. Specific blockade of vascular endothelial receptor 2 (VEGFR-2) using a murine antibody significantly delayed primary tumor growth but failed to prolong survival, while anti-PD-1 antibody treatment alone conferred a minor survival advantage in one model. However, dual anti-PD-1/VEGFR-2 therapy significantly inhibited primary tumor growth and doubled survival in both models. Combination therapy reprogrammed the immune microenvironment by increasing cluster of differentiation 8–positive (CD8+) cytotoxic T cell infiltration and activation, shifting the M1/M2 ratio of tumor-associated macrophages and reducing T regulatory cell (Treg) and chemokine (C-C motif) receptor 2–positive monocyte infiltration in HCC tissue. In these models, VEGFR-2 was selectively expressed in tumor endothelial cells. Using spheroid cultures of HCC tissue, we found that PD-ligand 1 expression in HCC cells was induced in a paracrine manner upon anti-VEGFR-2 blockade in endothelial cells in part through interferon-gamma expression. Moreover, we found that VEGFR-2 blockade increased PD-1 expression in tumor-infiltrating CD4+ cells. We also found that under anti-PD-1 therapy, CD4+ cells promote normalized vessel formation in the face of antiangiogenic therapy with anti-VEGFR-2 antibody. Conclusions: We show that dual anti-PD-1/VEGFR-2 therapy has a durable vessel fortification effect in HCC and can overcome treatment resistance to either treatment alone and increase overall survival in both anti-PD-1 therapy–resistant and anti-PD-1 therapy–responsive HCC models.
|Number of pages||15|
|Publication status||Published - 2020 Apr 1|
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