In order to escape normal immune surveillance, tumors mimic peripheral tissue tolerance mechanisms such as the expression of programmed cell death-ligand 1 (PD-L1), the inhibition of which can lead to potent anti-tumor responses. Here we show the contribution of cyclin dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5) to immune evasion. Cdk5 is a proline-directed serine/threonine kinase, which is highly expressed in post-mitotic neurons and directs a variety of homeostatic functions from cytoskeletal rearrangement to neurotransmitter signaling. Studies in xenograft models have linked Cdk5 activity to the generation and metabolic activity of primary tumors within the central nervous system (CNS). Here we show that Cdk5, expressed in both murine and human medulloblastoma (MB) cell lines, plays a major role in the ability of MB to avoid immune detection. First, we observed that decreased Cdk5 expression was associated with an increase in the number of infiltrating CD3+ cells in the tumor mass of clinical MB samples. Additionally, using publicly available datasets, we found that decreased Cdk5 expression is correlated with better overall survival or fewer distant metastasis in melanoma, breast cancer, glioma, and lung adenocarcinoma. Next, using a CRISPR/Cas-9 approach, we silenced Cdk5 in a murine model of Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) pathway MB. Rather than causing intrinsic growth defects in MB, interference of Cdk5 activity sensitizes tumors to killing by the normal host immune system in a CD4+ T cell-dependent manner. This rejection is associated with increased IFN-γ expression in the tumor microenvironment, as well as increased PD-L1 expression by myeloid populations in both subcutaneous and intracranial tumors. Mechanistically, we observed an attenuated response to IFN-γ stimulated expression of programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) on MB cells. This blunted response was recapitulated when MB cells were treated with Roscovitine, a non-selective Cdk5 inhibitor. Furthermore, using a quantitative global phosphoproteomics approach, we found that Cdk5 knockdown also increased phosphorylation of S-440 and S-443 on interferon regulatory factor binding protein 2 (IRF2BP2), an upstream co-repressor of interferon regulatory factor 2 (IRF-2). Increased phosphorylation of IRF2BP2 corresponded with stable expression of IRF-2 with a concomitant decrease in surface expression of PD-L1. These observations highlight a critical role for Cdk5 in the immune escape mechanisms of primary CNS tumors and provides new therapeutic targets for PD-1/PD-L1 directed immunotherapy.

Citation Format: Rodney D. Dorand, Jr., Joseph Nthale, Jay T. Myers, Deborah S. Barkauskas, Stefanie Avril, Steven M. Chirieleison, Tej K. Pareek, Derek W. Abbott, Duncan S. Stearns, John J. Letterio, Alex Y. Huang, Agne Petrosiute. Cdk5 disruption attenuates tumor PD-L1 expression via regulation of IFN-γ signaling components and promotes antitumor immunity [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the Second CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference: Translating Science into Survival; 2016 Sept 25-28; New York, NY. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Immunol Res 2016;4(11 Suppl):Abstract nr A050.