The optimal partnership of radiation and immunotherapy: from preclinical studies to clinical translation.
The main role of the immune system is to restore tissue homeostasis when altered by pathogenic processes, including neoplastic transformation. Immune-mediated tumor rejection has been recognized as an extrinsic tumor suppressor mechanism that tumors need to overcome to progress. By the time a tumor becomes clinically apparent it has successfully escaped immune control by establishing an immunosuppressive microenvironment. Ionizing radiation applied locally to a tumor alters these tumor-host interactions. Accumulating evidence indicates that standard therapeutic doses of radiation have the potential to recover tumor immunogenicity and convert the tumor into an in situ personalized vaccine. Radiotherapy induces an immunogenic tumor cell death promoting cross-presentation of tumor-derived antigens by dendritic cells to T cells. In addition, radiotherapy stimulates chemokine-mediated recruitment of effector T cells to the tumor, and cellular recognition and killing by T cells that is facilitated by upregulation of major histocompatibility antigens, NKG2D ligands, adhesion molecules and death receptors. Despite these effects, radiotherapy alone is only rarely capable of generating enough proinflammatory signals to sufficiently overcome suppression, as it can also activate immunosuppressive factors. However, our group and others have shown that when combined with targeted immunotherapy agents radiotherapy significantly contributes to a therapeutically effective anti-tumor immune response. To illustrate this partnership between radiation and immunotherapy we will discuss as an example our experience in preclinical models and the molecular mechanisms identified. Additionally, the clinical translation of these combinations will be discussed.