Despite advancements in targeting the immune checkpoints program cell death protein 1 (PD-1), programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1), and cytotoxic T lymphocyte–associated protein 4 (CTLA-4) for cancer immunotherapy, a large number of patients and cancer types remain unresponsive. Current immunotherapies focus on modulating an antitumor immune response by directly or indirectly expanding antitumor CD8 T cells. A complementary strategy might involve inhibition of Tregs that otherwise suppress antitumor immune responses. Here, we sought to identify functional immune molecules preferentially expressed on tumor-infiltrating Tregs. Using genome-wide RNA-Seq analysis of purified Tregs sorted from multiple human cancer types, we identified a conserved Treg immune checkpoint signature. Using immunocompetent murine tumor models, we found that antibody-mediated depletion of 4-1BB–expressing cells (4-1BB is also known as TNFRSF9 or CD137) decreased tumor growth without negatively affecting CD8 T cell function. Furthermore, we found that the immune checkpoint 4-1BB had a high selectivity for human tumor Tregs and was associated with worse survival outcomes in patients with multiple tumor types. Thus, antibody-mediated depletion of 4-1BB–expressing Tregs represents a strategy with potential activity across cancer types.
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