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The tumor microenvironment contains a vast array of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines that alter myelopoiesis and lead to the maturation of immunosuppressive cells known as myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs). Incubating bone marrow (BM) precursors with a combination of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) generated a tumor-infiltrating MDSC-like population that impaired anti-tumor specific T-cell functions. This in vitro experimental approach was used to simulate MDSC maturation, and the cellular metabolic response was then monitored. A complementary experimental model that inhibited L-arginine (L-Arg) metabolizing enzymes in MSC-1 cells, an immortalized cell line derived from primary MDSCs, was used to study the metabolic events related to immunosuppression.
Exposure of BM cells to GM-CSF and IL-6 activated, within 24h, L-Arg metabolizing enzymes which are responsible for the MDSCs immunosuppressive potential. This was accompanied by an increased uptake of L-glutamine (L-Gln) and glucose, the latter being metabolized by anaerobic glycolysis. The up-regulation of nutrient uptake lead to the accumulation of TCA cycle intermediates and lactate as well as the endogenous synthesis of L-Arg and the production of energy-rich nucleotides. Moreover, inhibition of L-Arg metabolism in MSC-1 cells down-regulated central carbon metabolism activity, including glycolysis, glutaminolysis and TCA cycle activity, and led to a deterioration of cell bioenergetic status. The simultaneous increase of cell specific concentrations of ATP and a decrease in ATP-to-ADP ratio in BM-derived MDSCs suggested cells were metabolically active during maturation. Moreover, AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) was activated during MDSC maturation in GM-CSF and IL-6–treated cultures, as revealed by the continuous increase of AMP-to-ATP ratios and the phosphorylation of AMPK. Likewise, AMPK activity was decreased in MSC-1 cells when L-Arg metabolizing enzymes were inhibited. Finally, inhibition of AMPK activity by the specific inhibitor Compound C (Comp-C) resulted in the inhibition of L-Arg metabolizing enzyme activity and abolished MDSCs immunosuppressive activity.
We anticipate that the inhibition of AMPK and the control of metabolic fluxes may be considered as a novel therapeutic target for the recovery of the immunosurveillance process in cancer-bearing hosts.