Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is a pulmonary neuroendocrine cancer with very poor prognosis and limited effective therapeutic options. Most patients are diagnosed at advanced stages, and the exact reason for the aggressive and metastatic phenotype of SCLC is completely unknown. Despite a high tumor mutational burden, responses to immune checkpoint blockade are minimal in patients with SCLC. This may reflect defects in immune surveillance. Here we illustrate that evading natural killer (NK) surveillance contributes to SCLC aggressiveness and metastasis, primarily through loss of NK-cell recognition of these tumors by reduction of NK-activating ligands (NKG2DL). SCLC primary tumors expressed very low level of NKG2DL mRNA and SCLC lines express little to no surface NKG2DL at the protein level. Chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing showed NKG2DL loci in SCLC are inaccessible compared with NSCLC, with few H3K27Ac signals. Restoring NKG2DL in preclinical models suppressed tumor growth and metastasis in an NK cell-dependent manner. Likewise, histone deacetylase inhibitor treatment induced NKG2DL expression and led to tumor suppression by inducing infiltration and activation of NK and T cells. Among all the common tumor types, SCLC and neuroblastoma were the lowest NKG2DL-expressing tumors, highlighting a lineage dependency of this phenotype. In conclusion, these data show that epigenetic silencing of NKG2DL results in a lack of stimulatory signals to engage and activate NK cells, highlighting the underlying immune avoidance of SCLC and neuroblastoma.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research