Blockade of immune checkpoint proteins (e.g., CTLA-4, PD-1) improves overall survival in advanced melanoma; however, therapeutic benefit is limited to only a subset of patients. Because checkpoint blockade acts by “removing the brakes” on effector T cells, the efficacy of checkpoint blockade may be constrained by the limited pool of melanoma-reactive T cells in the periphery. In the thymus, autoimmune regulator (Aire) promotes deletion of T cells reactive against self-antigens that are also expressed by tumors. Thus, while protecting against autoimmunity, Aire also limits the generation of melanoma-reactive T cells. Here, we show that Aire deficiency in mice expands the pool of CD4+ T cells capable of melanoma cell eradication and has additive effects with anti–CTLA-4 antibody in slowing melanoma tumor growth and increasing survival. Moreover, pharmacologic blockade of central T cell tolerance and peripheral checkpoint blockade in combination enhanced antimelanoma immunity in a synergistic manner. In melanoma patients treated with anti–CTLA-4 antibody, clinical response to therapy was associated with a human Aire polymorphism. Together, these findings suggest that Aire-mediated central tolerance constrains the efficacy of peripheral checkpoint inhibition and point to simultaneous blockade of Aire and checkpoint inhibitors as a novel strategy to enhance antimelanoma immunity.
Pearl Bakhru, Meng-Lei Zhu, Hsing-Hui Wang, Lee K. Hong, Imran Khan, Maria Mouchess, Ajay S. Gulati, Joshua Starmer, Yafei Hou, David Sailer, Sandra Lee, Fengmin Zhao, John M. Kirkwood, Stergios Moschos, Lawrence Fong, Mark S. Anderson, Maureen A. Su