Stroma-infiltrating immune cells, such as tumor-associated macrophages (TAM), play an important role in regulating tumor progression and chemoresistance. These effects are mostly conveyed by secreted mediators, among them several cathepsin proteases. In addition, increasing evidence suggests that stroma-infiltrating immune cells are able to induce profound metabolic changes within the tumor microenvironment. In this study, we aimed to characterize the impact of cathepsins in maintaining the TAM phenotype in more detail. For this purpose, we investigated the molecular effects of pharmacological cathepsin inhibition on the viability and polarization of human primary macrophages as well as its metabolic consequences. Pharmacological inhibition of cathepsins B, L, and S using a novel inhibitor, GB111-NH2, led to changes in cellular recycling processes characterized by an increased expression of autophagy-and lysosome-associated marker genes and reduced adenosine triphosphate (ATP) content. Decreased cathepsin activity in primary macrophages further led to distinct changes in fatty acid metabolites associated with increased expression of key modulators of fatty acid metabolism, such as fatty acid synthase (FASN) and acid ceramidase (ASAH1). The altered fatty acid profile was associated with an increased synthesis of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandin PGE2, which correlated with the upregulation of numerous NFkB-dependent pro-inflammatory mediators, including interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-C motif chemokine ligand 2 (CCL2), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFα). Our data indicate a novel link between cathepsin activity and metabolic reprogramming in macrophages, demonstrated by a profound impact on autophagy and fatty acid metabolism, which facilitates a pro-inflammatory micromilieu generally associated with enhanced tumor elimination. These results provide a strong rationale for therapeutic cathepsin inhibition to overcome the tumor-promoting effects of the immune-evasive tumor micromilieu.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding: This paper was supported by a research grant of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) to P.M. and G.B. (Mi 710/8-1) and in part by the DFG (Mi 710/10-1) to P.M.
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- Activity-based probes
- Lipid metabolism
- Tumor-associated macrophage