Background & aims: Although immunotherapy has emerged as an attractive therapy for refractory cancers, its limited efficacy in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) suggests the need for a combination strategy that can either enhance or complement therapeutic effect. We investigated whether combination of immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) and radiation could enhance antitumor effect in a murine HCC model. Methods: Using murine HCC, HCa-1, the effect of radiation on programmed deathligand1 (PD-L1) expression was determined by real-time PCR, flow cytometry, and western blotting. Signaling pathways involved in altered PD-L1 expression were examined. Tumor growth and survival rate were evaluated for a combination of anti- PD-L1 and radiation. Immunological parameters in the tumor were assessed using flow cytometry and histological study. Results: Radiation upregulated PD-L1 expression in tumor cells through IFN-γ/STAT3 signaling, which could facilitate therapeutic action of anti-PD-L1. Combination of anti-PD-L1 and radiation significantly suppressed tumor growth compared to treatment with anti-PD-L1 alone or radiation alone group (P < 0.01). Survival was significantly improved in the combination group compared to anti-PD-L1 alone or radiation alone group (7-week survival rate; 90% vs. 0% or 30%, respectively, P < 0.001). The underlying mechanism involved increasing apoptosis, decreasing tumor cell proliferation, as well as restoration of CD8+ T cell functions. Conclusions: The combination of anti-PD-L1 and radiation significantly improved the antitumor effect shown in tumor growth delay as well as in survival, supporting a novel combination strategy of immunoradiotherapy in HCC.
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