The limited efficacy of currently approved immunotherapies in EGFR-driven lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD) underscores the need to better understand alternative mechanisms governing local immunosuppression to fuel novel therapies. Elevated surfactant and GM-CSF secretion from the transformed epithelium induces tumor-associated alveolar macrophage (TA-AM) proliferation, which supports tumor growth by rewiring inflammatory functions and lipid metabolism. TA-AM properties are driven by increased GM-CSF–PPARγ signaling and inhibition of airway GM-CSF or PPARγ in TA-AMs suppresses cholesterol efflux to tumor cells, which impairs EGFR phosphorylation and restrains LUAD progression. In the absence of TA-AM metabolic support, LUAD cells compensate by increasing cholesterol synthesis, and blocking PPARγ in TA-AMs simultaneous with statin therapy further suppresses tumor progression and increases proinflammatory immune responses. These results reveal new therapeutic combinations for immunotherapy-resistant EGFR-mutant LUADs and demonstrate how cancer cells can metabolically co-opt TA-AMs through GM-CSF–PPARγ signaling to provide nutrients that promote oncogenic signaling and growth.
Alternate strategies harnessing anticancer innate immunity are required for lung cancers with poor response rates to T cell–based immunotherapies. This study identifies a targetable, mutually supportive, metabolic relationship between macrophages and transformed epithelium, which is exploited by tumors to obtain metabolic and immunologic support to sustain proliferation and oncogenic signaling.