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Potent STING activation stimulates immunogenic cell death to enhance antitumor immunity in neuroblastoma


Wang-Bishop LLihong , Wehbe MMohamed , Shae DDaniel , James JJamaal , Hacker BCBenjamin C , Garland KKyle , Chistov PPPlamen P , Rafat MMarjan , Balko JMJustin M , Wilson JTJohn T . Journal for immunotherapy of cancer. 2020 3 8; 8(1).


BACKGROUND: Neuroblastoma (NB) is a childhood cancer for which new treatment options are needed. The success of immune checkpoint blockade in the treatment of adult solid tumors has prompted the exploration of immunotherapy in NB; however, clinical evidence indicates that the vast majority of NB patients do not respond to single-agent checkpoint inhibitors. This motivates a need for therapeutic strategies to increase NB tumor immunogenicity. The goal of this study was to evaluate a new immunotherapeutic strategy for NB based on potent activation of the stimulator of interferon genes (STING) pathway.

METHODS: To promote STING activation in NB cells and tumors, we utilized STING-activating nanoparticles (STING-NPs) that are designed to mediate efficient cytosolic delivery of the endogenous STING ligand, 2’3′-cGAMP. We investigated tumor-intrinsic responses to STING activation in both MYCN-amplified and non-amplified NB cell lines, evaluating effects on STING signaling, apoptosis, and the induction of immunogenic cell death. The effects of intratumoral administration of STING-NPs on CD8 T cell infiltration, tumor growth, and response to response to PD-L1 checkpoint blockade were evaluated in syngeneic models of MYCN-amplified and non-amplified NB.

RESULTS: The efficient cytosolic delivery of 2’3′-cGAMP enabled by STING-NPs triggered tumor-intrinsic STING signaling effects in both MYCN-amplified and non-amplified NB cell lines, resulting in increased expression of interferon-stimulated genes and pro-inflammatory cytokines as well as NB cell death at concentrations 2000-fold to 10000-fold lower than free 2’3′-cGAMP. STING-mediated cell death in NB was associated with release or expression of several danger associated molecular patterns that are hallmarks of immunogenic cell death, which was further validated via cell-based vaccination and tumor challenge studies. Intratumoral administration of STING-NPs enhanced STING activation relative to free 2’3′-cGAMP in NB tumor models, converting poorly immunogenic tumors into tumoricidal and T cell-inflamed microenvironments and resulting in inhibition of tumor growth, increased survival, and induction of immunological memory that protected against tumor re-challenge. In a model of MYCN-amplified NB, STING-NPs generated an abscopal response that inhibited distal tumor growth and improved response to PD-L1 immune checkpoint blockade.

CONCLUSIONS: We have demonstrated that activation of the STING pathway, here enabled by a nanomedicine approach, stimulates immunogenic cell death and remodels the tumor immune microenvironment to inhibit NB tumor growth and improve responses to immune checkpoint blockade, providing a multifaceted immunotherapeutic approach with potential to enhance immunotherapy outcomes in NB.