Myeloid-derived suppressor cell (MDSC) levels are elevated in patients with cancer and contribute to reduced efficacy of immune checkpoint therapy. MDSC express Bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK) and BTK inhibition with ibrutinib, an FDA-approved irreversible inhibitor of BTK, leads to reduced MDSC expansion/function in mice and significantly improves the antitumor activity of anti-PD-1 antibody treatments. Single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) was used to characterize the effect of ibrutinib on gene expression of fluorescence-activated cell sorting-enriched MDSC from patients with different cancer types [breast, melanoma, head and neck squamous cell cancer (HNSCC)]. Melanoma patient MDSC were treated in vitro for 4 hours with 5 μmol/L ibrutinib or DMSO, processed for scRNA-seq using the Chromium 10× Genomics platform, and analyzed via the Seurat v4 standard integrative workflow. Baseline gene expression of MDSC from patients with breast, melanoma, and HNSCC cancer revealed similarities among the top expressed genes. In vitro ibrutinib treatment of MDSC from patients with melanoma resulted in significant changes in gene expression. GBP1, IL-1β, and CXCL8 were among the top downregulated genes whereas RGS2 and ABHD5 were among the top upregulated genes (P < 0.001). Double positive CD14+CD15+ MDSC and PMN-MDSC responded similarly to BTK inhibition and exhibited more pronounced gene changes compared with early MDSC and M-MDSC. Pathway analysis revealed significantly downregulated pathways including TREM1, nitric oxide signaling, and IL-6 signaling (P < 0.004).


scRNA-seq revealed characteristic gene expression patterns for MDSC from different patients with cancer and BTK inhibition led to the downregulation of multiple genes and pathways important to MDSC function and migration.

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