Programmed death-1 (PD-1) is a coinhibitory receptor that downregulates the activity of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) in cancer and of virus-specific T cells in chronic infection. The molecular mechanisms driving high PD-1 expression on TILs have not been fully investigated. We demonstrate that TGFβ1 enhances antigen-induced PD-1 expression through SMAD3-dependent, SMAD2-independent transcriptional activation in T cells in vitro and in TILs in vivo. The PD-1 hi subset seen in CD8 + TILs is absent in Smad3-deficient tumor-specific CD8 + TILs, resulting in enhanced cytokine production by TILs and in draining lymph nodes and antitumor activity. In addition to TGFβ1’s previously known effects on T-cell function, our findings suggest that TGFβ1 mediates T-cell suppression via PD-1 upregulation in the tumor microenvironment (TME). They highlight bidirectional cross-talk between effector TILs and TGFβ-producing cells that upregulates multiple components of the PD-1 signaling pathway to inhibit antitumor immunity. SIGNIFICANCE: Engagement of the coinhibitory receptor PD-1 or its ligand, PD-L1, dramatically inhibits the antitumor function of TILs within the TME. Our findings represent a novel immunosuppressive function of TGFβ and demonstrate that TGFβ1 allows tumors to evade host immune responses in part through enhanced SMAD3-mediated PD-1 expression on TILs.
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