OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to assess the impact of chemoradiation on the immune microenvironment to influence and optimally design future neoadjuvant clinical trials. SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Programmed death (PD)-1 inhibitors in metastatic gastroesophageal cancer have demonstrated response rates of approximately 25% in programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1+) tumors. Unfortunately, the majority of patients do not respond. Therefore, a rationale strategy of combining immunotherapeutic agents with chemoradiation in earlier stage esophageal cancer may prevent metastatic disease in patients. METHODS: To determine the effects of chemoradiation on resected esophageal adenocarcinomas, we examined the immune microenvironment pre- and post-chemoradiation using immunohistochemistry, quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR), and functional analysis of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. Additionally, to assess the duration and dependency of radiation-induced PD-L1 upregulation, a surgical rat reflux model of esophageal adenocarcinoma is used. First, tumor-bearing animals were dosed with single-fraction 13Gy or 16Gy radiation to determine safety, dose correlation, and PD-L1 upregulation using qRT-PCR post-radiation. Next, longitudinal PD-L1 expression levels within individual animals were determined using serial endoscopic biopsies at baseline, 1, 5, and 9 weeks post 16Gy radiation. RESULTS: The majority of cancers displayed enhanced interferon γ and activated CD8+ T lymphocytes at the tumor stroma interface. These tumors also demonstrated enhanced upregulation of PD-L1 and multiple other immune checkpoints including TIM3, GITR, IDO1, LAG3, OX40, and KIR. The animal model results indicated PD-L1 upregulation is dose-dependent and transiently elevated post radiation exposure. CONCLUSIONS: Collectively, these findings provide insights into the evolving immune landscape after chemoradiation and have significant implications for neoadjuvant trial designs that will combine radiotherapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors.
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