Research ArticleCancer

Colocalization of Inflammatory Response with B7-H1 Expression in Human Melanocytic Lesions Supports an Adaptive Resistance Mechanism of Immune Escape

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Science Translational Medicine  28 Mar 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 127, pp. 127ra37
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3003689

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The Great Escape

In the movie The Great Escape, “problem” prisoners with multiple escape attempts are put in an “escape-proof” POW camp, where they use their cleverness and specialized skills to outwit their captors. However, when it comes to escaping, even Steve McQueen doesn’t have anything on cancer cells. Although human cancers express tumor antigens recognized by the immune system, host immune responses often fail to control tumor growth. Taube et al. now explain one way in which tumor cells may adapt to escape from immune surveillance.

The researchers found a strong association between expression of the immune-inhibitory molecule B7-H1 (PD-L1) on melanocytes and immune cell infiltration into tumors in patients with different stages of melanoma. The B7-H1+ melanocytes were found directly adjacent to the immune cells, with interferon-γ detected at the melanocyte–immune cell interface. Interferon-γ, which is secreted by the immune cells, induces B7-H1 expression; thus, the tumor may adapt by causing immune cells to trigger their own inhibition. Indeed, patients with B7-H1+ metastatic melanoma had prolonged overall survival when compared with B7-H1 metastatic melanoma patients, perhaps suggesting that B7-H1 expression by the tumors is stimulated by a more successful immune response. It remains to be seen whether blocking B7-H1 in these patients will further improve survival. But it is clear that for both prisoners and tumors, adaptation is the key to escape.