Objective Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is an aggressive malignancy with limited effective treatment options. An alternative strategy is to target cells, such as tumour-infiltrating macrophages, in the HCC tumour microenvironment. The CCL2/CCR2 axis is required for recruitment of monocytes/macrophages and is implicated in various aspects of liver pathology, including HCC. We investigated the feasibility of CCL2/CCR2 as a therapeutic target against HCC.
Design CCL2 expression was analysed in two independent HCC cohorts. Growth of three murine HCC cells was evaluated in an orthotopic model, a postsurgical recurrence model and a subcutaneous model in mice after blocking CCL2/CCR2 axis by a novel CCR2 antagonist or knocking out of host CCR2. In vivo macrophage or T cell depletion and in vitro cell coculture were further conducted to investigate CCL2/CCR2-mediated crosstalk between tumour-associated macrophages (TAMs) and tumour cells.
Result CCL2 is overexpressed in human liver cancers and is prognostic for patients with HCC. Blockade of CCL2/CCR2 signalling with knockout of CCR2 or with a CCR2 antagonist inhibits malignant growth and metastasis, reduces postsurgical recurrence, and enhances survival. Further, therapeutic blocking of the CCL2/CCR2 axis inhibits the recruitment of inflammatory monocytes, infiltration and M2-polarisation of TAMs, resulting in reversal of the immunosuppression status of the tumour microenvironment and activation of an antitumorous CD8+ T cell response.
Conclusions In patients with liver cancer, CCL2 is highly expressed and is a prognostic factor. Blockade of CCL2/CCR2 signalling suppresses murine liver tumour growth via activating T cell antitumour immune response. The results demonstrate the translational potential of CCL2/CCR2 blockade for treatment of HCCs.
- CELL BIOLOGY
- HEPATOCELLULAR CARCINOMA
- IMMUNOLOGY IN HEPATOLOGY