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posted on 2018-06-21, 04:04 authored by Sara Alavi, Ashleigh Jacqueline Stewart, Richard F. Kefford, Su Yin Lim, Elena Shklovskaya, Helen Rizos

Immune checkpoint inhibitors that block the programmed cell death protein 1/PD-L1 pathway have significantly improved the survival of patients with advanced melanoma. Immunotherapies are only effective in 15–40% of melanoma patients and resistance is associated with defects in antigen presentation and interferon signaling pathways. In this study, we examined interferon-γ (IFNγ) responses in a large panel of immune checkpoint inhibitor-naïve melanoma cells with defined genetic drivers; BRAF-mutant (n = 11), NRAS-mutant (n = 10), BRAF/NRAS wild type (n = 10), and GNAQ/GNA11-mutant uveal melanomas (UVMs) (n = 8). Cell surface expression of established IFNγ downstream targets PD-L1, PD-L2, HLA-A, -B, and -C, HLA-DR, and nerve growth factor receptor (NGFR) were analyzed by flow cytometry. Basal cellular expression levels of HLA-A, -B, -C, HLA-DR, NGFR, and PD-L2 predicted the levels of IFNγ-stimulation, whereas PD-L1 induction was independent of basal expression levels. Only 13/39 (33%) of the melanoma cell lines tested responded to IFNγ with potent induction of all targets, indicating that downregulation of IFNγ signaling is common in melanoma. In addition, we identified two well-recognized mechanisms of immunotherapy resistance, the loss of β-2-microglobulin and interferon gamma receptor 1 expression. We also examined the influence of melanoma driver oncogenes on IFNγ signaling and our data suggest that UVM have diminished capacity to respond to IFNγ, with lower induced expression of several targets, consistent with the disappointing response of UVM to immunotherapies. Our results demonstrate that melanoma responses to IFNγ are heterogeneous, frequently downregulated in immune checkpoint inhibitor-naïve melanoma and potentially predictive of response to immunotherapy.