Apigenin suppresses PD-L1 expression in melanoma and host dendritic cells to elicit synergistic therapeutic effects

Lu Xu1,2†, Yang Zhang1,3†, Kang Tian1,4†, Xi Chen2, Rongxin Zhang2, Xindi Mu2, Yueguang Wu1, Duchuang Wang1, Shanshan Wang1, Fang Liu1, Taishu Wang1, Jinrui Zhang1, Shuyan Liu1, Yingqiu Zhang1, Caixia Tu1,2* and Han Liu1,3*

Background—The PD-L1/PD-1 pathway blockade-mediated immune therapy has shown promising efficacy in the treatment of multiple cancers including melanoma. The present study investigated the effects of the flavonoid apigenin on the PD-L1 expression and the tumorigenesis of melanoma.
Methods—The influence of flavonoids on melanoma cell growth and apoptosis was investigated using cell proliferation and flow cytometric analyses. The differential IFN-γ-induced PD-L1 expression and STAT1 activation were examined in curcumin and apigenin-treated melanoma cells using immunoblotting or immunofluorescence assays. The effects of flavonoid treatment on melanoma sensitivity towards T cells were investigated using Jurkat cell killing, cytotoxicity, cell viability, and IL-2 secretion assays. Melanoma xenograft mouse model was used to assess the impact of flavonoids on tumorigenesis in vivo. Human peripheral blood mononuclear cells were used to examine the influence of flavonoids on PD-L1 expression in dendritic cells and cytotoxicity of cocultured cytokine-induced killer cells by cell killing assays.
Results—Curcumin and apigenin showed growth-suppressive and pro-apoptotic effects on melanoma cells. The IFN-γ-induced PD-L1 upregulation was significantly inhibited by flavonoids, especially apigenin, with correlated reductions in STAT1 phosphorylation. Apigenin-treated A375 cells exhibited increased sensitivity towards T cell-mediated killing. Apigenin also strongly inhibited A375 melanoma xenograft growth in vivo, with enhanced T cell infiltration into tumor tissues. PD-L1 expression in dendritic cells was reduced by apigenin, which potentiated the cytotoxicity of cocultured cytokine-induced killer cells against melanoma cells.
Conclusions— Apigenin restricted melanoma growth through multiple mechanisms, among which its suppression of PD-L1 expression exerted a dual effect via regulating both tumor and antigen presenting cells. Our findings provide novel insights into the anticancer effects of apigenin and might have potential clinical implications.

Melanoma, PD-L1, CD274, Apigenin, Flavonoid, STAT1