RORγt agonist enhances anti-PD-1 therapy by promoting monocyte-derived dendritic cells through CXCL10 in cancers
Abstract Background The overall response rate to checkpoint blockade remains unsatisfactory, partially due to the immune-suppressive tumor microenvironment. A retinoic acid-related orphan receptor γt (RORγt) agonist (LYC-55716) is currently used in clinical trials combined with anti-PD-1, but how the Th17 cell transcription factor RORγt enhances antitumor immunity of PD-1 in the tumor microenvironment remains elusive. Methods The expression of mRNA was analyzed using qPCR assays. Flow cytometry was used to sort and profile cells. Cell migration was analyzed using Transwell assays. Biacore was used to determine the binding affinity to the RORγt protein. The RORγt GAL4 cell-based reporter gene assay was used to measure activity in the RORγt driven luciferase reporter gene expression. Results We designed a potent and selective small-molecule RORγt agonist (8-074) that shows robust antitumor efficacy in syngeneic tumor models and improves the efficacy of anti‑PD‑1 in a murine lung cancer model. RORγt agonist treatment increased intratumoral CD8+ T cells, which were correlated with CXCL10 and monocyte-derived dendritic cells (MoDCs). In addition, the RORγt agonist promoted Type 17 T cell migration by upregulating CCL20 and CCR6 expression, and Type 17 T cell tumor infiltration. CCL20 induces MoDCs migration, and CXCL10 derived from MoDCs promotes CD8+ T cell migration. Conclusion Our results revealed that the RORγt agonist improved the efficacy of anti-PD-1. The RORγt agonist increased the migration of MoDCs, which increased the local levels of CXCL10, thus promoting CD8+ T cell tumor infiltration. Our findings provide the mechanistic insights implicating the RORγt agonist in immunotherapy and offer a strategy for targeting the RORγt agonist to improve PD-1 antibody efficacy in cancers.