Background: Sub-lethal doses of radiation can alter the phenotype of target tissue by modulating gene expression and making tumor cells more susceptible to T-cell-mediated immune attack. We have previously shown that sublethal tumor cell irradiation enhances killing of colorectal carcinoma cells by tumor-specific cytotoxic T cells by unknown mechanisms. Recent data from our lab indicates that irradiation of tumor cells results in the upregulation of OX40L and 41BBL, and that T cells incubated with irradiated tumor cells displayed improved CTL survival, activation and effector activity. The objective of this current study was to determine the mechanism of enhanced OX40L and 41BBL expression in human colorectal tumor cells. Methods: Two colorectal carcinoma cell lines, HCT116 and SW620, were examined for changes in the expression of 41BBL and OX40L in response to inhibition of histone deacetylases (using TSA) and DNA methyltransferases (using 5-Aza-2′-deoxycytidine) to evaluate if epigenetic mechanisms of gene expression can modulate these genes. Tumor cells were treated with radiation, TSA, or 5-Aza-dC, and subsequently evaluated for changes in gene expression using RT-qPCR and flow cytometry. Moreover, we assessed levels of histone acetylation at the 41BBL promoter using chromatin immunoprecipitation assays in irradiated HCT116 cells. Results: Our data indicate that expression of 41BBL and OX40L can indeed be epigenetically regulated, as inhibition of histone deacetylases and of DNA methyltransferases results in increased OX40L and 41BBL mRNA and protein expression. Treatment of tumor cells with TSA enhanced the expression of these genes more than treatment with 5-Aza-dC, and co-incubation of T cells with TSA-treated tumor cells enhanced T-cell survival and activation, similar to radiation. Furthermore, chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments revealed significantly increased histone H3 acetylation of 41BBL promoters specifically following irradiation. Conclusions: Full understanding of specific mechanisms of immunogenic modulation (altered expression of immune relevant genes) of irradiated tumor cells will be required to determine how to best utilize radiation as a tool to enhance cancer immunotherapy approaches. Overall, our results suggest that radiation can be used to make human tumors more immunogenic through epigenetic modulation of genes stimulatory to effector T-cells. Keywords: External beam radiation, Immunogenic modulation, CTLs, Epigenetic, Effector co-stimulation.
Kumari et al.: Turning T cells on: epigenetically enhanced expression of effector T-cell costimulatory molecules on irradiated human tumor cells. Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer 2013 1:17. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/2051-1426-1-17
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