HDAC inhibition potentiates immunotherapy in triple negative breast cancer

Manuela Terranova-Barberio, Scott Thomas, Niwa Ali, Nela Pawlowska, Jeenah Park, Gregor Krings, Michael D. Rosenblum, Alfredo Budillon, Pamela N. Munster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) represents a more aggressive and difficult subtype of breast cancer where responses to chemotherapy occur, but toxicity is significant and resistance often follows. Immunotherapy has shown promising results in various types of cancer, including breast cancer. Here, we investigated a new combination strategy where histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) are applied with immune checkpoint inhibitors to improve immunotherapy responses in TNBC. Testing different epigenetic modifiers, we focused on the mechanisms underlying HDACi as priming modulators of immunotherapy. Tumor cells were co-cultured with human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and flow cytometric immunophenotyping was performed to define the role of epigenetic priming in promoting tumor antigen presentation and immune cell activation. We found that HDACi up-regulate PD-L1 mRNA and protein expression in a time-dependent manner in TNBC cells, but not in hormone responsive cells. Focusing on TNBC, HDACi upregulated PD-L1 and HLA-DR on tumor cells when co-cultured with PBMCs and downregulated CD4+ Foxp3+ Treg in vitro. HDACi significantly enhanced the in vivo response to PD-1/CTLA-4 blockade in the triple-negative 4T1 breast cancer mouse model, the only currently available experimental system with functional resemblance to human TNBC. This resulted in a significant decrease in tumor growth and increased survival, associated with increased T cell tumor infiltration and a reduction in CD4+ Foxp3+ T cells in the tumor microenvironment. Overall, our results suggest a novel role for HDAC inhibition in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors and identify a promising therapeutic strategy, supporting its further clinical evaluation for TNBC treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114156-114172
Number of pages17
Issue number69
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Checkpoint inhibitor
  • Epigenetics modulators
  • HDAC inhibitor
  • Immunotherapy
  • Triple negative breast cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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