Acquired resistance to BRAFV600E inhibitors (BRAFi) in melanoma remains a common clinical obstacle, as is the case for any targeted drug therapy that can be developed given the plastic nature of cancers. While there has been significant focus on the cancer cell-intrinsic properties of BRAFi resistance, the impact of BRAFi resistance on host immunity has not been explored. Here we provide preclinical evidence that resistance to BRAFi in an autochthonous mouse model of melanoma is associated with restoration of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC) in the tumor microenvironment initially reduced by BRAFi treatment. In contrast to restoration of MDSC, levels of T regulatory cells remained reduced in BRAFi-resistant tumors. Accordingly, tumor gene expression signatures specific for myeloid cell chemotaxis and homeostasis reappeared in BRAFi-resistant tumors. Notably, MDSC restoration relied upon MAPK pathway reactivation and downstream production of the myeloid attractant CCL2 in BRAFi-resistant melanoma cells. Strikingly, while combination checkpoint blockade (anti-CTLA-4 + anti-PD-1) was ineffective against BRAFi-resistant melanomas, the addition of MDSC depletion/blockade (anti-Gr-1 + CCR2 antagonist) prevented outgrowth of BRAFi-resistant tumors. Our results illustrate how extrinsic pathways of immunosuppression elaborated by melanoma cells dominate the tumor microenvironment and highlight the need to target extrinsic as well as intrinsic mechanisms of drug resistance.
- Received June 24, 2016.
- Revision received December 2, 2016.
- Accepted December 2, 2016.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.