Tumor cell-derived lactate induces TAZ-dependent upregulation of PD-L1 through GPR81 in human lung cancer cells

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The clinical success of immunotherapy that inhibits the negative immune regulatory pathway programmed cell death protein 1/PD-1 ligand (PD-1/PD-L1) has initiated a new era in the treatment of metastatic cancer. PD-L1 expression is upregulated in many solid tumors including lung cancer and functions predominantly in lactate-enriched tumor microenvironments. Here, we provided evidence for PD-L1 induction in response to lactate stimulation in lung cancer cells. Lactate-induced PD-L1 induction was mediated by its receptor GPR81. The silencing of GPR81 signaling in lung cancer cells resulted in a decrease in PD-L1 protein levels and functional inactivation of PD-L1 promoter activity. In addition, GPR81-mediated upregulation of PD-L1 in glucose-stimulated lung cancer cells that recapitulates the enhanced glycolysis in vivo was dependent on lactate dehydrogenase A (LDHA). We also demonstrated that activation of GPR81 decreases intracellular cAMP levels and inhibits protein kinase A (PKA) activity, leading to activation of the transcriptional coactivator TAZ. Interaction of TAZ with the transcription factor TEAD was essential for TAZ activation of PD-L1 and induction of its expression. Furthermore, we found that lactate-induced activation of PD-L1 in tumor cells led to reduced production of interferon-γ and induction of apoptosis of cocultured Jurkat T-cell leukemia cells. Our findings reveal an unexpected role of lactate in contributing to tumor cell protection from cytotoxic T-cell targeting and establishes a direct connection between tumor cell metabolic reprograming and tumor evasion from the immune response.

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We thank Dr Hen Wu (Tianjin Lung Cancer Center and Institute, Tianjin Medical University General Hospital) for helping with the correlation analysis in a data set obtained from GEO, and Sean Hackett (Johns Hopkins University) for critical reading and revising of this manuscript. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81272359 to ZW) and introduction of high-level scientific research start-up fund by Wannan Medical College (to ZW).

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Correspondence to L Wang or Z Wu.

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