P50 suppresses cytotoxic T lymphocyte effector function to regulate tumor immune escape and response to immunotherapy

Chunwan Lu, John D. Klement, Alyssa D. Smith, Dafeng Yang, Jennifer L. Waller, Darren D. Browning, David H. Munn, Kebin Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background NF-κB is a key link between inflammation and cancer. Previous studies of NF-κB have largely focused on tumor cells, and the intrinsic function of NF-κB in T cells in tumor development and response to immunotherapy is largely unknown. We aimed at testing the hypothesis that NF-κB1 (p50) activation in T cells underlies human colon cancer immune escape and human cancer non-response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy. Methods We screened NF-κB activation in human colon carcinoma and used mouse models to determine p50 function in tumor cells and immune cells. RNA-Seq was used to identify p50 target genes. p50 binding to target gene promoters were determined by electrophoresis mobility shift assay and chromatin immunoprecipitation. A p50 activation score was generated from gene expression profiling and used to link p50 activation to T-cell activation and function pre-nivolumab and post-nivolumab immunotherapy in human patients with cancer. Results p50 is the dominant form of NF-κB that is highly activated in immune cells in the human colorectal carcinoma microenvironment and neighboring non-neoplastic colon epithelial cells. Tumor cell intrinsic p50 signaling and T-cell intrinsic p50 signaling exert opposing functions in tumor growth control in vivo. Deleting Nfkb1 in tumor cells increased whereas in T cells decreased tumor growth in preclinical mouse models. Gene expression profiling identified Gzmb as a p50 target in T cells. p50 binds directly to a previously uncharacterized κB sequence at the Gzmb promoter in T cells, resulting in repression of Gzmb expression in tumor-infiltrating cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) to induce a dysfunctional CTL phenotype to promote tumor immune escape. p50 activation is inversely correlated with both GZMB expression and T-cell tumor infiltration in human colorectal carcinoma. Furthermore, nivolumab immunotherapy decreased p50 activation and increased GZMB expression in human patients with melanoma. Conclusions Inflammation activates p50 that binds to the Gzmb promoter to repress granzyme B expression in T cells, resulting in CTL dysfunction to confer tumor immune escape and decreased response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number230
JournalJournal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 13 2020


  • CD8-positive T-lymphocytes
  • gastrointestinal neoplasms
  • immune evation
  • immunotherapy
  • inflammation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cancer Research


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