Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts Suppress CD8+ T-cell Infiltration and Confer Resistance to Immune-Checkpoint Blockade

Liam Jenkins, Ute Jungwirth, Alexandra Avgustinova, Marjan Iravani, Adam Mills, Syed Haider, James Harper, Clare M Isacke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (SciVal)


Immune-checkpoint blockade (ICB) promotes antitumor immune responses and can result in durable patient benefit. However, response rates in breast cancer patients remain modest, stimulating efforts to discover novel treatment options. Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAF) represent a major component of the breast tumor microenvironment and have known immunosuppressive functions in addition to their well-established roles in directly promoting tumor growth and metastasis. Here we utilized paired syngeneic mouse mammary carcinoma models to show that CAF abundance is associated with insensitivity to combination αCTLA4 and αPD-L1 ICB. CAF-rich tumors exhibited an immunologically cold tumor microenvironment, with transcriptomic, flow cytometric, and quantitative histopathologic analyses demonstrating a relationship between CAF density and a CD8+ T-cell-excluded tumor phenotype. The CAF receptor Endo180 (Mrc2) is predominantly expressed on myofibroblastic CAFs, and its genetic deletion depleted a subset of αSMA-expressing CAFs and impaired tumor progression in vivo. The addition of wild-type, but not Endo180-deficient, CAFs in coimplantation studies restricted CD8+ T-cell intratumoral infiltration, and tumors in Endo180 knockout mice exhibited increased CD8+ T-cell infiltration and enhanced sensitivity to ICB compared with tumors in wild-type mice. Clinically, in a trial of melanoma patients, high MRC2 mRNA levels in tumors were associated with a poor response to αPD-1 therapy, highlighting the potential benefits of therapeutically targeting a specific CAF subpopulation in breast and other CAF-rich cancers to improve clinical responses to immunotherapy.

SIGNIFICANCE: Paired syngeneic models help unravel the interplay between CAF and tumor immune evasion, highlighting the benefits of targeting fibroblast subpopulations to improve clinical responses to immunotherapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2904-2917
Number of pages14
JournalCancer Research
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

BBSRC iCASE studentship to ICR and AstraZeneca


  • Animals
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms
  • Tumor Microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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