Radiotherapy programs neutrophils to an antitumor phenotype by inducing mesenchymal-epithelial transition

Qiqi Liu, Yuying Hao, Rui Du, Dan Hu, Jian Xie, Jingxin Zhang, Guodong Deng, Ning Liang, Tiantian Tian, Lukas Käsmann, Dirk Rades, Chai Hong Rim, Pingping Hu*, Jiandong Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work


Background: Neutrophils can play a pro-tumor or anti-tumor role depending on the tumor microenvironment. The effects of concurrent treatment with granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) and radiotherapy (RT) on neutrophils have not yet to be described. Methods: Hypofractionated radiation of 8 Gy ×3 fractions was administered with or without recombinant G-CSF to Lewis lung carcinoma tumor-bearing C57BL/6 model mice. The activation status of cytotoxic T cells in the mice was measured, along with the levels of tumor-associated neutrophils, cytotoxic T cells, and Treg cells. Tumor growth, survival, cytokine expression, and signaling pathways underlying antitumor effects of tumor-associated neutrophils after treatment were also studied. To ascertain the effects of concurrent RT and G-CSF on tumor-associated neutrophils, neutrophil depletion was performed. Results: RT affected early neutrophil infiltration, which is the first-line immune response. Subsequently, enhanced accumulation of lymphocytes, particularly CD8 cytotoxic T cells, was observed. Notably, lymphocytic infiltration was inhibited by neutrophil depletion but enhanced by G-CSF treatment. RT generated persistent DNA damage, as evidenced by an accumulation of phosphorylation of histone H2AX (γH2AX), and subsequently triggered inflammatory chemokine secretion. The chemokines CXCL1, CXCL2, and CCL5 were upregulated in both radiation-treated cells and the corresponding supernatants. Neutrophils that were newly recruited after RT improved radiosensitivity by inhibiting epithelial-mesenchymal transition via the reactive oxygen species-mediated PI3K/Akt/Snail signaling pathway, and G-CSF treatment enhanced this effect. Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that RT activates neutrophil recruitment and polarizes newly recruited neutrophils toward an antitumor phenotype, which is enhanced by the concurrent administration of G-CSF. Mesenchymal-epithelial transition induced by reactive oxygen species accumulation plays a major role in this process. Thus, the polarization of tumor-associated neutrophils might play a role in future cancer immunotherapies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTranslational Lung Cancer Research
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)1424-1443
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 03.2021


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