Intratumoral IFN-α gene delivery reduces tumor-infiltrating regulatory T cells through the downregulation of tumor CCL17 expression

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The effect of IFN-α on the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment is not fully understood. We previously reported that intratumoral IFN-α gene transduction decreased the frequency of regulatory T cells (Tregs) in the tumor by inducing the secretion of IL-6 from dendritic cells. In this study, we examined whether IFN-α affects the trafficking of Tregs to the tumor. Since CT26 cells expressed CCL17 among Treg-attracting chemokines, we focused on its role in IFN-α-mediated Treg suppression. IFN-α directly suppressed CCL17 production from CT26 cells in vitro, and IFN-α transduction reduced CCL17 expression in tumors in vivo. Next, to investigate whether CCL17 downregulation is related to the suppression of Treg trafficking, CCL17-downregulated CT26 cells produced using short hairpin RNA (CT26-shCCL17) were inoculated into mice. The frequency of Tregs in CT26-shCCL17 tumors was reduced and tumor growth was suppressed. Finally, to examine the combinatorial effect of IFN-α expression with CCL17 downregulation, IFN-α was transduced into CT26-shCCL17 tumors. This resulted in an elevation of CT26-specific CD8+ T cells and the complete eradication of tumors. This study shows a novel mechanism of IFN-α-mediated Treg suppression, and combining IFN-α gene therapy with strong CCL17 downregulation could offer a promising strategy for the treatment of cancer.

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This work was supported in part by grants-in-aid for Practical Research for Innovative Cancer Control from the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (18ck0106358h0002 and 18ak0101043h0104) and grants from the National Cancer Center Research and Development Fund (26-A-11, 26-A-12, 29-A-2, and 29-A-7).

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Correspondence to Kazunori Aoki.

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