Hypoxia is an essential component of tumor microenvironment. In this study, we investigated the influence of hypoxia (1% PO2) on CTL-mediated tumor cell lysis. We demonstrate that exposure of target tumor cells to hypoxia has an inhibitory effect on the CTL clone (Heu171)-induced autologous target cell lysis. Such inhibition correlates with hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) induction but is not associated with an alteration of CTL reactivity as revealed by granzyme B polarization or morphological change. Western blot analysis indicates that although hypoxia had no effect on p53 accumulation, it induced the phosphorylation of STAT3 in tumor cells by a mechanism at least in part involving vascular endothelial growth factor secretion. We additionally show that a simultaneous nuclear translocation of HIF-1α and phospho-STAT3 was observed. Interestingly, gene silencing of STAT3 by small interfering RNA resulted in HIF-1α inhibition and a significant restoration of target cell susceptibility to CTL-induced killing under hypoxic conditions by a mechanism involving at least in part down-regulation of AKT phosphorylation. Moreover, knockdown of HIF-1α resulted in the restoration of target cell lysis under hypoxic conditions. This was further supported by DNA microarray analysis where STAT3 inhibition resulted in a partly reversal of the hypoxia-induced gene expression profile. The present study demonstrates that the concomitant hypoxic induction of phopho-STAT3 and HIF-1α are functionally linked to the alteration of non-small cell lung carcinoma target susceptibility to CTL-mediated killing. Considering the eminent functions of STAT3 and HIF-1α in the tumor microenvironment, their targeting may represent novel strategies for immunotherapeutic intervention.
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