ARTICLE ABSTRACTWe have previously demonstrated that PD-1 blockade decreased the incidence of high-grade dysplasia in a carcinogen-induced murine model of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). It remains unknown, however, whether there are additional factors involved in escape from immune surveillance that could serve as additional targets for immunoprevention. We performed this study to further characterize the immune landscape of oral premalignant lesions (OPL) and determine the impact of targeting of the PD-1, CTLA-4, CD40, or OX40 pathways on the development of OPLs and oral carcinomas in the 4-nitroquinoline 1-oxide model. The immune pathways were targeted using mAbs or, in the case of the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway, using PD-L1–knockout (PD-L1ko) mice. After intervention, tongues and cervical lymph nodes were harvested and analyzed for malignant progression and modulation of the immune milieu, respectively. Targeting of CD40 with an agonist mAb was the most effective treatment to reduce transition of OPLs to OSCC; PD-1 alone or in combination with CTLA-4 inhibition, or PD-L1ko, also reduced progression of OPLs to OSCC, albeit to a lesser extent. Distinct patterns of immune system modulation were observed for the CD40 agonists compared with blockade of the PD-1/PD-L1 axis with or without CTLA-4 blockade; CD40 agonist generated a lasting expansion of experienced/memory cytotoxic T lymphocytes and M1 macrophages, whereas PD-1/CTLA-4 blockade resulted in a pronounced depletion of regulatory T cells among other changes. These data suggest that distinct approaches may be used for targeting different steps in the development of OSCC, and that CD40 agonists merit investigation as potential immunoprevention agents in this setting.
PD-1/PD-L1 pathway blockade, as well as activation of the CD40 pathway, were able to prevent OPL progression into invasive OSCC in a murine model. A distinct pattern of immune modulation was observed when either the CD40 or the PD-1/PD-L1 pathways were targeted.