β-catenin drives butyrophilin-like molecule loss and γδ T-cell exclusion in colon cancer.
Suzuki T., Kilbey A., Casa Rodriguez N., Lawlor A., Georgakopoulou A., Hayman H., Yin Swe KL., Nordin A., Cantù C., Vantourout P., Ridgway RA., Byrne RM., Chen L., Verzi MP., Gay DM., Gil Vazquez E., Belnoue-Davis HL., Gilroy K., Kostner AH., Kersten C., Thuwajit C., Andersen DK., Wiesheu R., Jandke A., Blyth K., Roseweir AK., Leedham SJ., Dunne PD., Edwards J., Hayday A., Sansom OJ., Coffelt SB.
Intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) expressing γδ T-cell receptors (γδTCRs) play key roles in elimination of colon cancer. However, the precise mechanisms by which progressing cancer cells evade immunosurveillance by these innate T cells are unknown. Here, we investigated how loss of the Apc tumor suppressor in gut tissue could enable nascent cancer cells to escape immunosurveillance by cytotoxic γδIELs. In contrast with healthy intestinal or colonic tissue, we found that γδIELs were largely absent from the microenvironment of both mouse and human tumors, and that butyrophilin-like (BTNL) molecules, which can critically regulate γδIEL through direct γδTCR interactions, were also downregulated in tumors. We then demonstrated that β-catenin activation through loss of Apc rapidly suppressed expression of the mRNA encoding the HNF4A and HNF4G transcription factors, preventing their binding to promoter regions of Btnl genes. Re-expression of BTNL1 and BTNL6 in cancer cells increased γδIEL survival and activation in co-culture assays but failed to augment their cancer-killing ability in vitro or their recruitment to orthotopic tumors. However, inhibition of β-catenin signaling via genetic deletion of Bcl9/Bcl9l in either Apc-deficient or mutant β-catenin mouse models restored Hnf4a, Hnf4g, and Btnl gene expression and γδ T-cell infiltration into tumors. These observations highlight an immune-evasion mechanism specific to WNT-driven colon cancer cells that disrupts γδIEL immunosurveillance and furthers cancer progression.