Background Regorafenib and other multikinase inhibitors may enhance antitumor efficacy of anti-program cell death-1 (anti-PD1) therapy in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Its immunomodulatory effects, besides anti-angiogenesis, were not clearly defined. Methods In vivo antitumor efficacy was tested in multiple syngeneic liver cancer models. Murine bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMDMs) were tested in vitro for modulation of polarization by regorafenib and activation of cocultured T cells. Markers of M1/M2 polarization were measured by quantitative reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR), arginase activity, flow cytometry, and ELISA. Knockdown of p38 kinase and downstream Creb1/Klf4 signaling on macrophage polarization were confirmed by using knockdown of the upstream MAPK14 kinase, chemical p38 kinase inhibitor, and chromatin immunoprecipitation. Results Regorafenib (5 mg/kg/day, corresponding to about half of human clinical dosage) inhibited tumor growth and angiogenesis in vivo similarly to DC-101 (anti-VEGFR2 antibody) but produced higher T cell activation and M1 macrophage polarization, increased the ratio of M1/M2 polarized BMDMs and proliferation/activation of cocultured T cells in vitro, indicating angiogenesis-independent immunomodulatory effects. Suppression of p38 kinase phosphorylation and downstream Creb1/Klf4 activity in BMDMs by regorafenib reversed M2 polarization. Regorafenib enhanced antitumor efficacy of adoptively transferred antigen-specific T cells. Synergistic antitumor efficacy between regorafenib and anti-PD1 was associated with multiple immune-related pathways in the tumor microenvironment. Conclusion Regorafenib may enhance antitumor immunity through modulation of macrophage polarization, independent of its anti-angiogenic effects. Optimization of regorafenib dosage for rational design of combination therapy regimen may improve the therapeutic index in the clinic.
- tumor microenvironment