Therapies targeting oncogene addiction have had a tremendous impact on tumor growth and patient outcome, but drug resistance continues to be problematic. One approach to deal with the challenge of resistance entails extending anticancer treatments beyond targeting cancer cells by additionally altering the tumor microenvironment. Understanding how the tumor microenvironment contributes to the evolution of diverse resistance pathways could aid in the design of sequential treatments that can elicit and take advantage of a predictable resistance trajectory. Tumor-associated macrophages often support neoplastic growth and are frequently the most abundant immune cell found in tumors. Here, we used clinically relevant in vivo Braf-mutant melanoma models with fluorescent markers to track the stage-specific changes in macrophages under targeted therapy with Braf/Mek inhibitors and assessed the dynamic evolution of the macrophage population generated by therapy pressure-induced stress. During the onset of a drug-tolerant persister state, Ccr2+ monocyte-derived macrophage infiltration rose, suggesting that macrophage influx at this point could facilitate the onset of stable drug resistance that melanoma cells show after several weeks of treatment. Comparison of melanomas that develop in a Ccr2-proficient or -deficient microenvironment demonstrated that lack of melanoma infiltrating Ccr2+ macrophages delayed onset of resistance and shifted melanoma cell evolution towards unstable resistance. Unstable resistance was characterized by sensitivity to targeted therapy when factors from the microenvironment were lost. Importantly, this phenotype was reversed by coculturing melanoma cells with Ccr2+ macrophages. Overall, this study demonstrates that the development of resistance may be directed by altering the tumor microenvironment to improve treatment timing and the probability of relapse.


Ccr2+ melanoma macrophages that are active in tumors during the drug-tolerant persister state following targeted therapy-induced regression are key contributors directing melanoma cell reprogramming toward specific therapeutic resistance trajectories.

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