Cancer stem cell (CSC) biology and tumor immunology have shaped our understanding of tumorigenesis. However, we still do not fully understand why tumors can be contained but not eliminated by the immune system and whether rare CSCs are required for tumor propagation. Long latency or recurrence periods have been described for most tumors. Conceptually, this requires a subset of malignant cells which is capable of initiating tumors, but is neither eliminated by immune cells nor able to grow straight into overt tumors. These criteria would be fulfilled by CSCs. Stem cells are pluripotent, immune-privileged, and long-living, but depend on specialized niches. Thus, latent tumors may be maintained by a niche-constrained reservoir of long-living CSCs that are exempt from immunosurveillance while niche-independent and more immunogenic daughter cells are constantly eliminated. The small subpopulation of CSCs is often held responsible for tumor initiation, metastasis, and recurrence. Experimentally, this hypothesis was supported by the observation that only this subset can propagate tumors in non-obese diabetic/scid mice, which lack T and B cells. Yet, the concept was challenged when an unexpectedly large proportion of melanoma cells were found to be capable of seeding complex tumors in mice which further lack NK cells. Moreover, the link between stem cell-like properties and tumorigenicity was not sustained in these highly immunodeficient animals. In humans, however, tumor-propagating cells must also escape from immune-mediated destruction. The ability to persist and to initiate neoplastic growth in the presence of immunosurveillance - which would be lost in a maximally immunodeficient animal model - could hence be a decisive criterion for CSCs. Consequently, integrating scientific insight from stem cell biology and tumor immunology to build a new concept of "CSC immunology" may help to reconcile the outlined contradictions and to improve our understanding of tumorigenesis.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide. Every year, nearly 1.4 million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed, and about 450.000 women die of the disease. Approximately 15-25% of breast cancer cases exhibit increased quantities of the trans-membrane receptor tyrosine kinase human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) on the tumor cell surface. Previous studies showed that blockade of this HER2 proto-oncogene with the antibody trastuzumab substantially improved the overall survival of patients with this aggressive type of breast cancer. Recruitment of natural killer (NK) cells and subsequent induction of antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC) contributed to this beneficial effect. We hypothesized that antibody binding to HER2-positive breast cancer cells and thus ADCC might be further improved by synergistically applying two different HER2-specific antibodies, trastuzumab and pertuzumab. We found that tumor cell killing via ADCC was increased when the combination of trastuzumab, pertuzumab, and NK cells was applied to HER2-positive breast cancer cells, as compared to the extent of ADCC induced by a single antibody. Furthermore, a subset of CD44(high)CD24(low)HER2(low) cells, which possessed characteristics of cancer stem cells, could be targeted more efficiently by the combination of two HER2-specific antibodies compared to the efficiency of one antibody. These in vitro results demonstrated the immunotherapeutic benefit achieved by the combined application of trastuzumab and pertuzumab. These findings are consistent with the positive results of the clinical studies, CLEOPATRA and NEOSPHERE, conducted with patients that had HER2-positive breast cancer. Compared to a single antibody treatment, the combined application of trastuzumab and pertuzumab showed a stronger ADCC effect and improved the targeting of breast cancer stem cells.
Immune cell infiltration varies widely between different glioblastomas (GBMs). The underlying mechanism, however, remains unknown. Here we show that TGF-beta regulates proliferation, migration, and tumorigenicity of mesenchymal GBM cancer stem cells (CSCs) in vivo and in vitro. In contrast, proneural GBM CSCs resisted TGF-beta due to TGFR2 deficiency. In vivo, a substantially increased infiltration of immune cells was observed in mesenchymal GBMs, while immune infiltrates were rare in proneural GBMs. On a functional level, proneural CSC lines caused a significantly stronger TGF-beta-dependent suppression of NKG2D expression on CD8(+) T and NK cells in vitro providing a mechanistic explanation for the reduced immune infiltration of proneural GBMs. Thus, the molecular subtype of CSCs TGF-beta-dependently contributes to the degree of immune infiltration.
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