Regorafenib enhances antitumor immunity via inhibition of p38 kinase/Creb1/Klf4 axis in tumor-associated macrophages

Da Liang Ou, Chia Wei Chen, Chia Lang Hsu, Chih Hung Chung, Zi Rui Feng, Bin Shyun Lee, Ann Lii Cheng, Muh Hwa Yang, Chiun Hsu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere001657
JournalJournal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer
Issue number3
StatePublished - 22 Mar 2021


  • immunomodulation
  • immunotherapy
  • tumor microenvironment


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