Tumor-associated fibrosis impairs immune surveillance and response to immune checkpoint blockade in non-small cell lung cancer


Non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Immune checkpoint blockade has improved survival for many patients with NSCLC, but most fail to obtain long-term benefit. Understanding the factors leading to reduced immune surveillance in NSCLC is critical in improving patient outcomes. Here, we show that human NSCLC harbors large amounts of fibrosis that correlates with reduced T cell infiltration. In murine NSCLC models, the induction of fibrosis led to increased lung cancer progression, impaired T cell immune surveillance, and failure of immune checkpoint blockade efficacy. Associated with these changes, we observed that fibrosis leads to numerically and functionally impaired dendritic cells and altered macrophage phenotypes that likely contribute to immunosuppression. Within cancer-associated fibroblasts, distinct changes within the Col13a1-expressing population suggest that these cells produce chemokines to recruit macrophages and regulatory T cells while limiting recruitment of dendritic cells and T cells. Targeting fibrosis through transforming growth factor–β receptor signaling overcame the effects of fibrosis to enhance T cell responses and improved the efficacy of immune checkpoint blockade but only in the context of chemotherapy. Together, these data suggest that fibrosis in NSCLC leads to reduced immune surveillance and poor responsiveness to checkpoint blockade and highlight antifibrotic therapies as a candidate strategy to overcome immunotherapeutic resistance.

In Science Translational Medicine
Nick Borcherding
Nick Borcherding
Assistant Professor

My research includes systems immunology, single-cell sequencing technology, and computational frameworks.