HSP27 modulates tumoural immune evasion by enhancing STAT3-mediated upregulation of PD-L1 and NLRC5 in ovarian cancer

31 Mar 2023
Maha Fezza, George Hilal, Roula Tahtouh, Malak Moubarak, David Atallah

Multiple preclinical studies have demonstrated that the addition of hyperthermia (HT) to immunotherapy could enhance tumour immunogenicity and stimulate an antitumour immune response, primarily via heat shock proteins (HSPs). However, antitumour immune responses are often impeded by immune evasion mechanisms, such as the overexpression of programmed death-ligand1 (PD-L1) and the loss of major histocompatibility complex class 1 (MHC-1) expression. In this context, we sought to investigate the effect of HT on PD-L1 and NOD-like receptor family CARD domain containing 5 (NLRC5) identified as the key transcriptional activator of MHC-1 genes, and their interaction in ovarian cancer. A coculture of ovarian cancer cell lines (IGROV1 and SKOV3) with peripheral blood mononuclear cells was set up. Then, culture media conditioned with IGROV1 or SKOV3 subjected to HT was tested on untreated cell cultures. Knocking down heat shock protein B1 (HSPB1 or HSP27), heat shock protein A1 (HSPA1 or HSP70), and pharmacological inhibition of STAT3 phosphorylation were performed. Subsequently, we measured expression levels of PD-L1, NLRC5, and proinflammatory cytokines. The correlation between PD-L1 and NLRC5 expression in ovarian cancer was evaluated using the Cancer Genome Atlas database. We found that HT produces a concomitant decrease in PD-L1 and NLRC5 expression in coculture. Notably, however, the conditioned media by heat-shocked cells increases their expression. HSP27 knockdown can reverse this increase. Adding STAT3 phosphorylation inhibitor significantly enhanced the expression inhibition of PD-L1 and NLRC5 induced by HSP27 silencing. Correlation analysis showed a positive correlation in ovarian cancer between NLRC5 and PD-L1. These findings demonstrate that HSP27 modulates PD-L1 and NLRC5 expression through the activation of a common regulator ‘STAT3’. Moreover, the positive correlation between PD-L1 and NLRC5 led us to conclude that the upregulation of PD-L1 and the downregulation of MHC class I are two mutually exclusive mechanisms of immune evasion in ovarian cancer.

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