Weak and ineffective antitumor cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses can be rescued by immunomodulatory mAbs targeting PD-1 or CD137. Using Batf3(-/-) mice, which are defective for cross-presentation of cell-associated antigens, we show that BATF3-dependent dendritic cells (DC) are essential for the response to therapy with anti-CD137 or anti-PD-1 mAbs. Batf3(-/-) mice failed to prime an endogenous CTL-mediated immune response toward tumor-associated antigens, including neoantigens. As a result, the immunomodulatory mAbs could not amplify any therapeutically functional immune response in these mice. Moreover, administration of systemic sFLT3L and local poly-ICLC enhanced DC-mediated cross-priming and synergized with anti-CD137- and anti-PD-1-mediated immunostimulation in tumor therapy against B16-ovalbumin-derived melanomas, whereas this function was lost in Batf3(-/-) mice. These experiments show that cross-priming of tumor antigens by FLT3L- and BATF3-dependent DCs is crucial to the efficacy of immunostimulatory mAbs and represents a very attractive point of intervention to enhance their clinical antitumor effects.
Significance: Immunotherapy with immunostimulatory mAbs is currently achieving durable clinical responses in different types of cancer. We show that cross-priming of tumor antigens by BATF3-dependent DCs is a key limiting factor that can be exploited to enhance the antitumor efficacy of anti-PD-1 and anti-CD137 immunostimulatory mAbs.