Immune cells in the tumor niche robustly influence disease progression. Remarkably, in cancer, developmental pathways are reenacted. Many parallels between immune regulation of embryonic development and immune regulation of tumor progression can be drawn, with evidence clearly supporting an immune-suppressive microenvironment in both situations. In these ecosystems, metabolic and bioenergetic circuits guide and regulate immune cell differentiation, plasticity, and functional properties of suppressive and inflammatory immune subsets. As such, there is an emerging pattern of intersection across the dynamic process of ontogeny and the ever-evolving tumor neighborhood. In this article, we focus on the convergence of immune programming during ontogeny and in the tumor microenvironment. Exemplifying dysregulation of Hedgehog (Hh) activity, a key player during ontogeny, we highlight a critical convergence of these fields and the metabolic axis of the nutrient sensing hexosamine biosynthetic pathway (HBP) that integrates glucose, glutamine, amino acids, acetyl CoA, and uridine-5′-triphosphate (UTP), culminating in the synthesis of UDP-GlcNAc, a metabolite that functions as a metabolic and bioenergetic sensor. We discuss an emerging pattern of immune regulation, orchestrated by O-GlcNAcylation of key transcriptional regulators, spurring suppressive activity of dysfunctional immune cells in the tumor microenvironment.

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