Arginase 1 is a key driver of immune suppression in pancreatic cancer

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An extensive fibroinflammatory stroma rich in macrophages is a hallmark of pancreatic cancer. In this disease, it is well appreciated that macrophages are immunosuppressive and contribute to the poor response to immunotherapy; however, the mechanisms of immune suppression are complex and not fully understood. Immunosuppressive macrophages are classically defined by expression of the enzyme Arginase 1 (Arg1), which we demonstrated is potently expressed in pancreatic tumor associated macrophages from both human patients and mouse models. While routinely used as a polarization marker, Arg1 also catabolizes arginine, an amino acid required for T cell activation and proliferation. To investigate this metabolic function, we used a genetic and a pharmacologic approach to target Arg1 in pancreatic cancer. Genetic inactivation of Arg1 in macrophages, using a dual recombinase genetically engineered mouse model of pancreatic cancer, delayed formation of invasive disease, while increasing CD8(+) T cell infiltration. Additionally, Arg1 deletion induced compensatory mechanisms, including Arg1 overexpression in epithelial cells, namely Tuft cells, and Arg2 overexpression in a subset of macrophages. To overcome these compensatory mechanisms, we used a pharmacological approach to inhibit arginase. Treatment of established tumors with the arginase inhibitor CB-1158 exhibited further increased CD8(+) T cell infiltration, beyond that seen with the macrophage-specific knockout, and sensitized the tumors to anti-PD1 immune checkpoint blockade. Our data demonstrate that Arg1 drives immune suppression in pancreatic cancer by depleting Arginine and inhibiting T cell activation.

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