Diffusing Alpha-Emitters Radiation Therapy Promotes a Proimmunogenic Tumor Microenvironment and Synergizes With Programmed Cell Death Protein 1 Blockade

Sara Del Mare, Yossi Nishri, Amit Shai, Margalit Efrati, Lisa Deutsch, Robert B. Den, Itzhak Kelson, Yona Keisari, Vered Domankevich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Diffusing alpha-emitters Radiation Therapy (DaRT) releases alpha-emitting atoms into the tumor microenvironment. The treatment effectively ablates human and mice xenografts and shows 100% response rates in skin or head and neck squamous cell carcinoma patients. DaRT induces specific and systemic antitumor immune activation and synergizes with immune stimulation and modulation in mice. Here, the transcriptional profile activated by DaRT, and its potential to enhance responsiveness to immune checkpoint inhibition by programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) blockade were studied. Methods and Materials: Squamous cell carcinoma tumor- bearing BALB/C mice were treated with DaRT or inert seeds in combination with anti-PD-1 (aPD-1) or IgG control antibody. Sixteen days after seed insertion, tumors and spleens were subjected to immunophenotyping and immunohistochemical staining. Combination of DaRT and aPD-1 was tested for efficacy. Gene expression analysis was performed on mRNA extracted from tumors 7 days after DaRT or inert insertion using Nanostring PanCancer-IO-360 panel, and tumors and spleens were subjected to flow cytometry analysis. Results: DaRT in combination with aPD-1 delayed tumor development, induced CD3 and CD8 lymphocytes infiltration more efficiently than either monotherapy. The combined treatment reduced splenic polymorphonuclear myeloid derived suppressor cells more than aPD-1 therapy or control. Granzyme B release in the tumor was increased only in the combinational treatment and was correlated with T-lymphocyte infiltration. Gene expression and gene set enrichment analysis of mRNA levels 7 days after DaRT insertion indicated that DaRT upregulated apoptosis, p53 signaling, G1/S-related arrest, interferon signaling and myeloid related transcription, while downregulating DNA repair, cell proliferation, and notch-related transcription. Flow cytometry showed that DaRT increased dendritic cells activation and led to changes in MDSCs distribution. Conclusions: DaRT promotes a “hot” tumor microenvironment and changes in immune suppression that lead to a potentiation of aPD-1 blockade induced effector T cell function and improved treatment efficacy. This study provides rationale for investigating DaRT and aPD-1 combination in patients with squamous cell carcinoma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)707-718
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2023


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