Immunotherapy based on T cell responses to the tumor is believed to involve killing of cancer cells by induction of apoptosis. The predominant mechanisms are death ligand-induced signaling mainly by TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) mediated by CD4 T cells, monocytes and dendritic cells, and perforin/granzyme mediated apoptosis mediated by CD8 T cells and NK cells. Resistance against TRAIL involves loss of TRAIL death receptors and/or activation of the MEK and/or Akt signal pathways. Resistance to CD8 CTL responses also involves activation of the MEK and/or Akt pathways. Apoptosis induced by immune responses is regulated by the Bcl-2 family of proteins. Many reagents have been developed against the Bcl-2 antiapoptotic proteins and clinical trials combining them with immunotherapy are awaited. The second group of agents that regulate the Bcl-2 family of proteins are the signal pathway inhibitors. Clinical trials with inhibitors of RAS, RAF or MEK are in progress and would appear an exciting combination with immunotherapy. One of the main drivers of resistance to apoptosis are adaptive mechanisms that allow cancer cells to overcome endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. These adaptive mechanisms inhibit practically all known apoptotic pathways and create an acidic environment that may reduce infiltration of lymphocytes against the tumor. The signal pathway inhibitors may be effective against these adaptive processes but additional agents that target ER stress pathways are in development. In conclusion, combination of immunotherapy with agents that target antiapoptotic mechanisms in cancer cells offers a new approach that requires evaluation in clinical trials.
Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy Vol. 58, Issue 11, p. 1749-1759