Programmed Death-Ligand 1 (PD-L1) Expression Is Induced by Insulin in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma Cells Pointing to Its Role in Immune Checkpoint Control

Type-2 diabetes (T2DM) is a risk factor for the development of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) and is characterized by insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia. Besides the well-known growth-promoting activity of insulin or the other members of the Insulin/Insulin-like Growth factor (IGF) axis, we here describe an inducing effect of insulin on PD-L1 expression in PDAC cells. Treatment of the PDAC cell lines BxPc3, A818-6, and T3M4 with insulin increased PD-L1 expression in a time- and dose dependent fashion, as shown by Western blot and qPCR analysis. siRNA mediated knock-down showed that the effects of insulin on PD-L1 depend on the insulin and IGF receptors (InsR and IGFR, respectively). In addition, a crosstalk of insulin-induced ERK activation and Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) triggered PD-L1 expression. This involves different mechanisms in the three cell lines including upregulation of InsR-A expression in A818-6 and modulation of the adaptor protein Gab1 in BxPc3 cells. As a consequence of the insulin-induced PD-L1 expression, PDAC cells suppress the proliferation of activated human CD8+ T-cells in coculture experiments. The suppression of CD8+ cell proliferation by insulin-pretreated PDAC cells was reversed by PD-1 blockade with Pembrolizumab or by PD-L1 siRNA. Furthermore, the clinical relevance of these observations was supported by detecting a coexpression of cytoplasmic InsR (characteristic for its activation) and PD-L1 in tumor tissues from PDAC patients. Our findings provide a novel insight into the protumorigenic role of insulin in PDAC. Recognizing the impact of insulin on PD-L1 expression as part of the immune privilege, strategies to interfere with this mechanism could pave the way towards a more efficient immunotherapy of PDAC.


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