Purpose: To characterize the mechanism by which metformin inhibits PD-L1 expression in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) and to evaluate the effect of metformin on the antitumor immune response. Methods: The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) database was used to analyze the correlations between IL-6 and prognosis and between IL-6 and PD-L1 gene expression in esophageal cancer. Reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), Western blotting and immunofluorescence were used to study the mechanism by which metformin affects PD-L1 expression. Additionally, T cell function was assessed in a coculture system containing ESCC cells and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) treated with metformin or IL-6. In an in vivo assay, we used a model established with NPIdKO™ mice, which have a reconstituted immune system generated by transplanting PBMCs through intravenous injection, to evaluate the effect of metformin on tumors. Results: The TCGA esophageal cancer data showed that IL-6 expression was positively correlated with PD-L1 expression and that patients with high IL-6 expression had a significantly lower overall survival rate than patients with low IL-6 expression. PD-L1 expression in ESCC cell lines was significantly inhibited by metformin via the IL-6/JAK2/STAT3 signaling pathway but was not correlated with the canonical AMPK pathway. In the coculture system, the metformin pretreatment group showed higher T cell activation and better T cell killing function than the control group. Animal experiments confirmed that metformin downregulated PD-L1 expression and that combination treatment with metformin and PD-1 inhibitors synergistically enhanced the antitumor response. Conclusions: Metformin downregulated PD-L1 expression by blocking the IL-6/JAK2/STAT3 signaling pathway in ESCC, which enhanced the antitumor immune response.
- IL-6/JAK2/STAT3 signaling pathway
- anti-PD-1 antibody
- esophageal squamous cell carcinoma