BACKGROUND: Immunotherapy in high-risk neuroblastoma (HR-NBL) does not live up to its full potential due to inadequate (adaptive) immune engagement caused by the extensive immunomodulatory capacity of HR-NBL. We aimed to tackle one of the most notable immunomodulatory processes in neuroblastoma (NBL), absence of major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC-I) surface expression, a process greatly limiting cytotoxic T cell engagement. We and others have previously shown that MHC-I expression can be induced by cytokine-driven immune modulation. Here, we aimed to identify tolerable pharmacological repurposing strategies to upregulate MHC-I expression and therewith enhance T cell immunogenicity in NBL.
METHODS: Drug repurposing libraries were screened to identify compounds enhancing MHC-I surface expression in NBL cells using high-throughput flow cytometry analyses optimized for adherent cells. The effect of positive hits was confirmed in a panel of NBL cell lines and patient-derived organoids. Compound-treated NBL cell lines and organoids were cocultured with preferentially expressed antigen of melanoma (PRAME)-reactive tumor-specific T cells and healthy-donor natural killer (NK) cells to determine the in vitro effect on T cell and NK cell cytotoxicity. Additional immunomodulatory effects of histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) were identified by transcriptome and translatome analysis of treated organoids.
RESULTS: Drug library screening revealed MHC-I upregulation by inhibitor of apoptosis inhibitor (IAPi)- and HDACi drug classes. The effect of IAPi was limited due to repression of nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB) pathway activity in NBL, while the MHC-I-modulating effect of HDACi was widely translatable to a panel of NBL cell lines and patient-derived organoids. Pretreatment of NBL cells with the HDACi entinostat enhanced the cytotoxic capacity of tumor-specific T cells against NBL in vitro, which coincided with increased expression of additional players regulating T cell cytotoxicity (eg, TAP1/2 and immunoproteasome subunits). Moreover, MICA and MICB, important in NK cell cytotoxicity, were also increased by entinostat exposure. Intriguingly, this increase in immunogenicity was accompanied by a shift toward a more mesenchymal NBL cell lineage.
CONCLUSIONS: This study indicates the potential of combining (immuno)therapy with HDACi to enhance both T cell-driven and NKcell-driven immune responses in patients with HR-NBL.