The herpes virus entry mediator (HVEM) delivers a negative signal to T cells mainly through the B and T lymphocyte attenuator (BTLA) molecule. Thus, HVEM/BTLA may represent a novel immune checkpoint during an anti-tumor immune response. However, a formal demonstration that HVEM can represent a target for cancer immunotherapy is still lacking. Here, we first showed that HVEM and BTLA mRNA expression levels were associated with a worse progression-free interval in patients with prostate adenocarcinomas, indicating a detrimental role for the HVEM/BTLA immune checkpoint during prostate cancer progression. We then showed that administration of a monoclonal antibody to human HVEM resulted in a twofold reduction in the growth of a prostate cancer cell line in NOD.SCID.gc-null mice reconstituted with human T cells. Using CRISPR/Cas9, we showed that the therapeutic effect of the mAb depended on HVEM expression by the tumor, with no effect on graft vs. host disease or activation of human T cells in the spleen. In contrast, the proliferation and number of tumor-infiltrating leukocytes increased following treatment, and depletion of CD8+
T cells partly alleviated treatment’s efficacy. The expression of genes belonging to various T cell activation pathways was enriched in tumor-infiltrating leukocytes, whereas genes associated with immuno-suppressive pathways were decreased, possibly resulting in modifications of leukocyte adhesion and motility. Finally, we developed a simple in vivo assay in humanized mice to directly demonstrate that HVEM expressed by the tumor is an immune checkpoint for T cell-mediated tumor control. Our results show that targeting HVEM is a promising strategy for prostate cancer immunotherapy.
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