First published January 16, 2020 - More info
Macrophages have been linked to tumor initiation, progression, metastasis and treatment resistance. However, the transcriptional regulation of macrophages driving the pro-tumor function remains elusive. Here, we demonstrate that the transcription factor c-Maf is a critical controller for immunosuppressive macrophage polarization and function in cancer. c-Maf controls many M2-related genes and has direct binding sites within a conservative non-coding sequence of csf-1r gene and promotes M2-like macrophage-mediated T cell suppression and tumor progression. c-Maf also serves as a metabolic checkpoint regulating TCA cycle and UDP-GlcNAc biosynthesis thus promoting M2-like macrophage polarization and activation. Additionally, c-Maf is highly expressed in tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) and regulates TAM immunosuppressive function. Deletion of c-Maf specifically in myeloid cells results in reduced tumor burden with enhanced antitumor T cell immunity. Inhibition of c-Maf partly overcomes resistance to anti-PD-1 therapy in a subcutaneous LLC tumor model. Similarly, c-Maf is expressed in human M2 and tumor-infiltrating macrophages/monocytes as well as circulating monocytes of human non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) patients and critically regulates its immunosuppressive activity. Natural compound β-glucan downregulates c-Maf expression on macrophages leading to enhanced antitumor immunity in mice. These findings establish a paradigm for immunosuppressive macrophage polarization and transcriptional regulation by c-Maf and suggest that c-Maf is a potential target for effective tumor immunotherapy.