Cancer cells evade the immune system through a variety of different mechanisms, including the inhibition of antitumor effector T cells via checkpoint ligand–receptor interaction. Moreover, studies have shown that blocking these checkpoint pathways can reinvigorate the antitumor immunity, thereby prompting the development of numerous checkpoint immunotherapies, several of which are now being approved to treat multiple types of cancer. However, only a fraction of patients achieves promising long-term outcomes in response to checkpoint inhibition, suggesting the existence of additional unknown tumor-induced immunosuppressive pathways. In this issue of the JCI, Klement and colleagues describe an additional pathway of T cell inhibition in cancer. Specifically, the authors demonstrate that downregulation of IRF8, a molecular determinant of apoptotic resistance, in tumor cells aborts repression of osteopontin, which in turn binds to its physiological receptor CD44 on activated T cells and suppresses their activation. These results suggest that osteopontin may act as another immune checkpoint and may serve as a target to expand the number of patients who respond to immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy.
Michael R. Shurin