Negative immune checkpoint regulation by VISTA: a mechanism of acquired resistance to anti-PD-1 therapy in metastatic melanoma patients
Understanding the mechanisms of acquired resistance to anti-PD-1 will allow development of better treatment strategies for cancer patients. This study evaluated potential mechanisms of acquired resistance to anti-PD-1 in longitudinally collected metastatic melanoma patient biopsies. Thirty-four metastatic melanoma biopsies were collected from 16 patients who had initially responded to either anti-PD-1 (n=13) alone or combination of anti-PD-1 and ipilimumab (n=3) and then progressed. Biopsies were taken prior to treatment (PRE, n=12) and following progression of disease (PROG, n=22). Immunohistochemistry was performed on all biopsies to detect CD8, FOXP3, PD-1 and VISTA expression on T-cells and PTEN, β-catenin, PD-L1, HLA-A, and HLA-DPB1 expression in the tumor. The majority of patients showed significantly increased density of VISTA+lymphocytes from PRE to PROG (12/18) (P=0.009) and increased expression of tumor PD-L1 from PRE to PROG (11/18). Intratumoral expression of FOXP3+ lymphocytes significantly increased (P=0.018) from PRE to PROG (10/18). Loss of tumor PTEN and downregulation of tumor HLA-A from PRE to PROG were each identified in 5/18 and 4/18 PROG biopsies, respectively. Downregulation of HLA-DPB1 from PRE to PROG was present in 3/18 PROG biopsies, whereas nuclear β-catenin activation was only identified in 2/18 PROG biopsies. Negative immune checkpoint regulation by VISTA represents an important potential mechanism of acquired resistance in melanoma patients treated with anti-PD-1. Downregulation of HLA-associated antigen presentation also occurs with acquired resistance. Augmentation of the VISTA immune checkpoint pathway may hold promise as a therapeutic strategy in metastatic melanoma patients, particularly those failing anti-PD-1 therapy, and warrants assessment in clinical trials.