Systemic but not MDSC-specific IRF4 deficiency promotes an immunosuppressed tumor microenvironment in a murine pancreatic cancer model

Metzger, P., Kirchleitner, S. V., Boehmer, D. F. R., Horth, C., Eisele, A., Ormanns, S., Gunzer, M., Lech, M., Lauber, K., Endres, S., Duewell, P., Schnurr, M., and Konig, L. M. (2020). Cancer Immunol Immunother 69, 2101-2112. doi: 10.1007/s00262-020-02605-9


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is characterized by a strong immunosuppressive network with a dense infiltration of myeloid cells including myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC). Two distinct populations of MDSC have been defined: polymorphonuclear MDSC (PMN-MDSC) and monocytic MDSC (M-MDSC). Several factors influence the development and function of MDSC including the transcription factor interferon regulatory factor 4 (IRF4). Here, we show that IRF4 deficiency accelerates tumor growth and reduces survival, accompanied with a dense tumor infiltration with PMN-MDSC and reduced numbers of CD8+ T cells. As IRF4 has been described to modulate myeloid cell development and function, particularly of PMN-MDSC, we analyzed its role using MDSC-specific IRF4 knockout mice with the Ly6G or LysM knock-in allele expressing Cre recombinase and Irf4flox. In GM-CSF-driven bone marrow cultures, IRF4 deficiency increased the frequency of MDSC-like cells with a strong T cell suppressive capacity. Myeloid (LysM)-specific depletion of IRF4 led to increased tumor weight and a moderate splenic M-MDSC expansion in tumor-bearing mice. PMN cell (Ly6G)-specific depletion of IRF4, however, did not influence tumor progression or MDSC accumulation in vivo in accordance with our finding that IRF4 is not expressed in PMN-MDSC. This study demonstrates a critical role of IRF4 in the generation of an immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment in pancreatic cancer, which is independent of IRF4 expression in PMN-MDSC.