Bacterial immunotherapy for cancer induces CD4-dependent tumor-specific immunity through tumor-intrinsic interferon-γ signaling

Bladder Cancer

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jul 17:202004421. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2004421117. Online ahead of print.


Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) immunotherapy for bladder cancer is the only bacterial cancer therapy approved for clinical use. Although presumed to induce T cell-mediated immunity, whether tumor elimination depends on bacteria-specific or tumor-specific immunity is unknown. Herein we show that BCG-induced bladder tumor elimination requires CD4 and CD8 T cells, although augmentation or inhibition of bacterial antigen-specific T cell responses does not alter the efficacy of BCG-induced tumor

elimination. In contrast, BCG stimulates long-term tumor-specific immunity that primarily depends on CD4 T cells. We demonstrate that BCG therapy results in enhanced effector function of tumor-specific CD4 T cells, mainly through enhanced production of IFN-γ. Accordingly, BCG-induced tumor elimination and tumor-specific immune memory require tumor cell expression of the IFN-γ receptor, but not MHC class II. Our findings establish that a bacterial immunotherapy for cancer is capable of inducing tumor immunity, an antitumor effect that results from enhanced function of tumor-specific CD4 T cells, and ultimately requires tumor-intrinsic IFN-γ signaling, via a mechanism that is distinct from other tumor immunotherapies.