Novel immunotherapeutic approaches for the treatment of acute leukemia (myeloid and lymphoblastic).
B7-H1 (PD-L1) is a B7-related protein that inhibits T-cell responses. B7-H1 participates in the immunoescape of cancer cells and is also involved in the long-term persistence of leukemic cells in a mouse model of leukemia. B7-H1 can be constitutively expressed by cancer cells, but is also induced by various stimuli. Therefore, we examined the constitutive and inducible expression of B7-H1 and the consequences of this expression in human acute myeloid leukemia (AML). We analyzed B7-H1 expression in a cohort of 79 patients with AML. In addition, we studied blast cells after incubation with interferon-gamma or toll-like receptors (TLR) ligands. Finally, we evaluated functionality of cytotoxic T-cell activity against blast cells. Expression of B7-H1 upon diagnosis was high in 18% of patients. Expression of TLR2, 4 and 9 was detected in one-third of AML samples. Expression of TLR2 and TLR4 ligands or IFN-γ induced by B7-H1 was found to protect AML cells from CTL-mediated lysis. Spontaneous B7-H1 expression was also found to be enhanced upon relapse in some patients. MEK inhibitors, including UO126 and AZD6244, reduced B7-H1 expression and restored CTL-mediated lysis of blast cells. In AML, B7-H1 expression by blasts represents a possible immune escape mechanism. The inducibility of B7-H1 expression by IFN-γ or TLR ligands suggests that various stimuli, either produced during the immune response against leukemia cells or released by infectious microorganisms, could protect leukemic cells from T cells. The efficacy of MEK inhibitors against B7-H1-mediated inhibition of CTLs suggests a possible cancer immunotherapy strategy using targeted drugs.