It is now well recognized that malignant growths, including those of the central nervous system (CNS), induce responses by the innate and the adaptive immune system. Emergence of clinically apparent tumors is thought to result from the induction of tumor antigen-specific immunologic tolerance. Interference with tumor tolerance mechanisms is a promising strategy for novel therapies based on harnessing the power of the immune system to treat cancer. Despite the immune-privileged status of the CNS, tumors of the brain are demonstrably also confronted with anti-tumor T cell responses, which are however usually insufficient to reject the tumors.
The goal of this project is to improve our understanding of how the immune system interfaces with malignant tumors of the CNS in order to design more effective, targeted immunotherapy of brain tumors. Specifically, we will investigate how the interaction of tumor-reactive cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) with myeloid antigen-presenting cells (APC) derived from microglia and blood-borne monocytes in the tumor environment as well as their effector function against tumor cells is controlled by tumor-reactive regulatory T cells (Treg). We hypothesize that Treg induce a suppressive phenotype in tumor-associated microglia and monocytes (TAM) and that TAM in turn inhibit the function of tumor-infiltrating CTL through cognate interactions in a TGF--dependent fashion.
To test this hypothesis we will: (1) adapt a mouse tumor model for the study of antigen-specific anti-tumor T cell responses and develop an multiphoton intravital microsopy (MP-IVM)-based approach to study the migratory behavior of CTL, TAM, and tumor cells through direct dynamic observation in the brains of living anaesthetized mice; (2) characterize their interactive behavior and how it is affected by the presence or absence of Treg; and (3) examine if TGF--signals are involved in the transmission of suppressive information from Treg to CTL via TAM.
If successful, this study will provide important mechanistic insight into the cellular events underlying tumor tolerance. This will allow for the design of innovative therapeutic strategies in the treatment of brain tumors by clarifying the role of a precise molecular target (TGF--receptor) on a defined cell population (CTL) and will make it possible to take advantage of evolving technologies for the targeted delivery of immunomodulatory agents.