The Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a cell-biological program that confers mesenchymal traits on carcinoma cells and drives their metastatic dissemination. It is, unclear, however, whether activation of EMT in carcinoma cells can change their susceptibility to immune attack. We demonstrate here that mammary tumor cells arising from more epithelial carcinoma cell lines expressed high levels of MHC-I, low levels of PD-L1 and contained within their stroma CD8+ T cells and M1 (anti-tumor) macrophages. In contrast, tumors arising from more-mesenchymal carcinoma cell lines exhibiting EMT markers expressed low levels of MHC-I, high levels of PD-L1 and contained within their stroma regulatory T cells, M2 (pro-tumor) macrophages and exhausted CD8+ T cells. Moreover, the more mesenchymal carcinoma cells within a tumor retained the ability to protect their more epithelial counterparts from immune attack. Lastly, epithelial tumors were more susceptible to elimination by immunotherapy than corresponding mesenchymal tumors. Our results identify immune cells and immunomodulatory markers that can be potentially targeted to enhance the susceptibility of immunosuppressive tumors to various therapeutic regimens.
- Received December 8, 2016.
- Revision received March 29, 2017.
- Accepted April 13, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.