Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICB) have significantly prolonged patient survival across multiple tumor types, particularly in melanoma. Interestingly, gender specific differences in response to ICB have been observed with males getting more benefit than females, although the mechanism(s) underlying this difference are unknown. Mining published transcriptomic datasets, we determined that response to ICBs is influenced by the functionality of intratumoral macrophages. This puts into context our observation that estrogens (E2) working through the estrogen receptor (ERα) stimulate melanoma growth in murine models by skewing macrophage polarization towards an immune-suppressive state that promotes CD8+ T cell dysfunction/exhaustion and ICB resistance. This activity was not evident in mice harboring a macrophage specific depletion of ERα confirming a direct role for estrogen signaling within myeloid cells in establishing an immunosuppressed state. Inhibition of ERα using fulvestrant, a selective estrogen receptor downregulator (SERD) decreases tumor growth, stimulates adaptive immunity and increases the antitumor efficacy of ICBs. Further, a gene signature that reads on ER activity in macrophages predicted survival in ICB treated melanoma patients. These results highlight the importance of E2/ER as a regulator of intratumoral macrophage polarization; an activity that can be therapeutically targeted to reverse immune suppression and increase ICB efficacy.
Binita Chakraborty, Jovita Byemerwa, Jonathan H. Shepherd, Corinne N. Haines, Robert Baldi, Weida Gong, Wen Liu, Debarati Mukherjee, Sandeep Artham, Felicia Lim, Yeeun Bae, Olivia Brueckner, Kendall Heetderks, Suzanne E. Wardell, Brent A. Hanks, Charles M. Perou, Ching-Yi Chang, Donald P. McDonnell