A combination of anti–CTLA-4 plus anti–PD-1/PD-L1 is the most effective cancer immunotherapy but causes high incidence of immune-related adverse events (irAEs). Here we report that targeting of HIF-1α suppressed PD-L1 expression on tumor cells and tumor-infiltrating myeloid cells, but unexpectedly induced PD-L1 in normal tissues by an IFN-γ–dependent mechanism. Targeting the HIF-1α/PD-L1 axis in tumor cells reactivated tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and caused tumor rejection. The HIF-1α inhibitor echinomycin potentiated the cancer immunotherapeutic effects of anti–CTLA-4 therapy, with efficacy comparable to that of anti–CTLA-4 plus anti–PD-1 antibodies. However, while anti–PD-1 exacerbated irAEs triggered by ipilimumab, echinomycin protected mice against irAEs by increasing PD-L1 levels in normal tissues. Our data suggest that targeting HIF-1α fortifies the immune tolerance function of the PD-1/PD-L1 checkpoint in normal tissues but abrogates its immune evasion function in the tumor microenvironment to achieve safer and more effective immunotherapy.
Christopher M. Bailey, Yan Liu, Mingyue Liu, Xuexiang Du, Martin Devenport, Pan Zheng, Yang Liu, Yin Wang
HIF-1α drives PD-L1 expression in tumor cells.