Melanoma-associated fibroblasts impair CD8+ T cell function and modify expression of immune checkpoint regulators via increased arginase activity

Barbara Érsek, Pálma Silló, Ugur Cakir, Viktor Molnár, András Bencsik, Balázs Mayer, Eva Mezey, Sarolta Kárpáti, Zoltán Pós, Krisztián Németh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Abstract: This study shows that melanoma-associated fibroblasts (MAFs) suppress cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) activity and reveals a pivotal role played by arginase in this phenomenon. MAFs and normal dermal fibroblasts (DFs) were isolated from surgically resected melanomas and identified as Melan-A-/gp100-/FAP+ cells. CTLs of healthy blood donors were activated in the presence of MAF- and DF-conditioned media (CM). Markers of successful CTL activation, cytotoxic degranulation, killing activity and immune checkpoint regulation were evaluated by flow cytometry, ELISPOT, and redirected killing assays. Soluble mediators responsible for MAF-mediated effects were identified by ELISA, flow cytometry, inhibitor assays, and knock-in experiments. In the presence of MAF-CM, activated/non-naïve CTLs displayed dysregulated ERK1/2 and NF-κB signaling, impeded CD69 and granzyme B production, impaired killing activity, and upregulated expression of the negative immune checkpoint receptors TIGIT and BTLA. Compared to DFs, MAFs displayed increased amounts of VISTA and HVEM, a known ligand of BTLA on T cells, increased l-arginase activity and CXCL12 release. Transgenic arginase over-expression further increased, while selective arginase inhibition neutralized MAF-induced TIGIT and BTLA expression on CTLs. Our data indicate that MAF interfere with intracellular CTL signaling via soluble mediators leading to CTL anergy and modify immune checkpoint receptor availability via l-arginine depletion. Graphic abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2020


  • Arginase
  • Cancer-associated fibroblasts
  • Immunosuppression
  • Melanoma
  • T lymphocytes
  • Tumor microenvironment
  • cytotoxic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology

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