Immune checkpoint inhibitors result in impressive clinical responses but optimal results will require combination with each other and other therapies. This raises fundamental questions about mechanisms of non-redundancy and resistance. Here, we report major tumor regressions in a subset of patients with metastatic melanoma treated with an anti-CTLA4 antibody (anti-CTLA4) and radiation (RT) on a phase one clinical trial and reproduced this effect in mouse models. Although combined treatment improved responses in irradiated and unirradiated tumors, resistance was common. Computational analysis of genome-wide and immune profiles of mice revealed resistance was due to T cell exhaustion driven by intrinsic and adaptive resistance through STAT1-mediated upregulation of PD-L1 on melanoma cells and tumor macrophages. Accordingly, optimal response in melanoma and other cancer types requires RT, anti-CTLA4, and anti-PD-L1/PD-1. Anti-CTLA4 predominantly inhibits T regulatory cells (Tregs) to increase the CD8 T cell to Treg (CD8/Treg) ratio. RT promotes the infiltration of intratumoral antigen-specific CD8 T cells and enhances the diversity of their T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire. Together, anti-CTLA4 promotes expansion of T cells, while RT shapes the TCR repertoire of the expanded peripheral clones in a manner consistent with antigen-driven selection. Addition of PD-L1 blockade reverses T cell exhaustion to mitigate depression in the CD8/Treg ratio and further encourages oligo-clonal T cell expansion. Similar to results from mice, patients on our clinical trial with tumors showing high PD-L1 did not respond to RT + anti-CTLA4, demonstrated persistent T cell exhaustion, and rapidly progressed. In contrast, patients with low PD-L1 on melanoma cells or macrophages had markedly improved survival, with the best survival observed among those patients with low PD-L1 on both cell types. Thus, our results suggest that 1) RT can enhance response to anti-CTLA4 when the TCR and/or antigen repertoire are sub-optimal, 2) upregulation of PD-L1 through intrinsic and STAT1-mediated adaptive resistance mechanisms inhibits response to anti-CTLA4-based therapy unless PD-L1/PD-1 is blocked, and 3) the combination of RT, anti-CTLA4, and anti-PD-L1 promotes response and immunity through distinct mechanisms. Finally, although PD-L1 was a dominant resistance mechanism in our models, PD-L1-independent resistance mechanisms were also present and targetable. The next generation of clinical trials based on these findings are underway.

Citation Format: Christina Twyman-Saint Victor, Andrew Rech, Amit Maity, Ramesh Rengan, Kristen Pauken, Erietta Stelekati, Joseph Benci, Bihui Xu, Hannah Dada, Pamela Odorizzi, Ramin Herati, Kathleen Mansfield, Dana Patsch, Ravi Amaravadi, Lynn Schuchter, Hemant Ishwaran, Rosemarie Mick, Daniel Pryma, Xiaowei Xu, Michael Feldman, Tara Gangadhar, Stephen Hahn, E. John Wherry, Robert Vonderheide, Andy Minn. Mechanisms of tumor response and resistance to radiation and dual checkpoint blockade in mice and patients. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR Inaugural International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference: Translating Science into Survival; September 16-19, 2015; New York, NY. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Immunol Res 2016;4(1 Suppl):Abstract nr A056.