Tumors frequently escape from immune surveillance by hijacking the natural control mechanisms that regulate normal immune responses. The programmed death-1 receptor (PD‑1) on T cells normally helps limit excessive immune activation, but it can also suppress beneficial antitumor immunity. In the clinic, blocking either PD‑1 or one of its principal counterligands, programmed death–ligand 1 (PD‑L1), can lead to dramatic responses in certain patients. Because PD‑L1 can be expressed by both the tumor cells themselves and also the host cells, including host immune cells, the actual mechanistic target of therapy has remained unclear. In the current issue of the JCI, two papers, one by Tang and colleagues and the other by Lin and colleagues, used a variety of mouse tumor models to demonstrate that the relevant target for therapy in each case was the PD‑L1 molecules expressed by host cells and not by tumor cells. If this finding is generalized to humans, then it would suggest that the tumor persuades the host to actively suppress its own attempted immune response against the tumor cells.
David H. Munn
Possible locations for the immunosuppressive PD‑L1 targeted by checkpoint blockade.