Research Article

A major chromatin regulator determines resistance of tumor cells to T cell–mediated killing

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Science  16 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6377, pp. 770-775
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao1710

SNF'ing out antitumor immunity

Immune checkpoint inhibitors induce durable tumor regressions in some, but not all, cancer patients. Understanding the mechanisms that determine tumor sensitivity to these drugs could potentially expand the number of patients who benefit (see the Perspective by Ghorani and Quezada). Pan et al. discovered that tumor cells in which a specific SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complex had been experimentally inactivated were more sensitive to T cell–mediated killing. The cells were more responsive to interferon-γ, leading to increased secretion of cytokines that promote antitumor immunity. Miao et al. examined the genomic features of tumors from patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma who had been treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors. Tumors harboring inactivating mutations in PBRM1, which encodes a subunit of the same SWI/SNF complex, were more likely to respond to the drugs.

Science, this issue p. 770, p. 801; see also p. 745


Many human cancers are resistant to immunotherapy, for reasons that are poorly understood. We used a genome-scale CRISPR-Cas9 screen to identify mechanisms of tumor cell resistance to killing by cytotoxic T cells, the central effectors of antitumor immunity. Inactivation of >100 genes—including Pbrm1, Arid2, and Brd7, which encode components of the PBAF form of the SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complex—sensitized mouse B16F10 melanoma cells to killing by T cells. Loss of PBAF function increased tumor cell sensitivity to interferon-γ, resulting in enhanced secretion of chemokines that recruit effector T cells. Treatment-resistant tumors became responsive to immunotherapy when Pbrm1 was inactivated. In many human cancers, expression of PBRM1 and ARID2 inversely correlated with expression of T cell cytotoxicity genes, and Pbrm1-deficient murine melanomas were more strongly infiltrated by cytotoxic T cells.

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