This proposal aims to dissect the actions of oncogenic KRAS (Kras*) its circuitry in controlling CRC immune biology with the goal of illuminating effective therapeutic strategies for testing in CRC patients. An array of molecular and pathobiological analyses comparing Kras* `on' versus Kras* `off' states in our mouse model of human CRC has revealed that Kras* drives and maintains invasive and metastatic disease, with Kras* expression correlating with a significant increase in myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) and decrease in killer T-cells. Preliminary mechanistic studies have shown that Kras* activates TGF?, which in turn represses IRF2 (a master interferon regulatory factor), resulting in suppression of interferon response. The interferon network normally functions to promote anti-tumor responses. Thus, our overall goal in this study is to evaluate two hypotheses: (1) that Kras*/TGF?-mediated repression of IRF2 creates an immune suppressive tumor microenvironment enabling cancer progression, and (2) that Kras*-driven immune suppression may provide a basis for the de novo resistance to immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) therapy observed in the majority of CRC patients. To achieve these goals, we propose the following Specific Aims:
In Aim 1, we will characterize the immune suppressive cell subtypes driven by Kras* in primary CRC utilizing our novel CRC mouse model, and evaluate the effects of Kras* mutation on MDSC and TAM activities to identify the signaling molecules governing immune suppression in these tumors.
In Aim 2, we will determine the mechanism by which TGF? suppresses IRF2, and identify the immune circuits regulated by IRF2 in Kras*-driven CRC that may contribute to an immune suppressive tumor microenvironment enabling cancer progression.
In Aim 3, we will investigate whether the neutralization of key Kras*-regulated targets in CRC can reverse primary resistance to immune checkpoint blockade therapy. Collectively, this proposal aims to identify novel combinations to improve the ICB sensitivity in Kras* CRC.
Colon cancer represents the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. We will test both the ability of oncogenic KRAS to drive immune suppression and immune checkpoint blockade resistance in colon cancer via suppression of interferon responses, and the therapeutic effects of various drug combinations in a mouse model to investigate new avenues of treatment of colon cancer.