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Lyu, Chen; Stadlbauer, Birgit; Wang, Lili; Buchner, Alexander; Pohla, Heike (2023): Identification of a novel combination treatment strategy in clear cell renal cell carcinoma stem cells with shikonin and ipilimumab. Frontiers in Immunology, 14: 1186388. ISSN 1664-3224

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Management of clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) has changed rapidly in recent years with the advent of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs). However, only a limited number of patients can sustainably respond to immune checkpoint inhibitors and many patients develop resistance to therapy, creating an additional need for therapeutic strategies to improve the efficacy of systemic therapies.

Binding probability and target genes prediction using online databases, invasion, migration, and apoptosis assays as well as the inhibition of cancer stem cells (CSCs) markers in ccRCC cell lines were used to select the most promising phytochemicals (PTCs). Mixed lymphocyte tumor cell culture (MLTC) system and flow cytometry were performed to confirm the potential combination strategy. The potential immunotherapeutic targets and novel CSC markers were identified via the NanoString analysis. The mRNA and protein expression, immune signatures as well as survival characteristics of the marker in ccRCC were analyzed via bioinformation analysis.

Shikonin was selected as the most promising beneficial combination partner among 11 PTCs for ipilimumab for the treatment of ccRCC patients due to its strong inhibitory effect on CSCs, the significant reduction of FoxP3 + Treg cells in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of patients and activation of the endogenous effector CD3 + CD8 + and CD3 + CD4 + T cells in response to the recognition of tumor specific antigens. Based on NanoString analysis VCAM1, CXCL1 and IL8 were explored as potential immunotherapeutic targets and novel CSC markers in ccRCC. The expression of VCAM1 was higher in the tumor tissue both at mRNA and protein levels in ccRCC compared with normal tissue, and was significantly positively correlated with immune signatures and survival characteristics in ccRCC patients.

We propose that a combination of shikonin and ipilimumab could be a promising treatment strategy and VCAM1 a novel immunotherapeutic target for the treatment of ccRCC.

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