Fulvestrant increases the susceptibility of enzalutamide-resistant prostate cancer cells to NK-mediated lysis.

Enzalutamide, a next-generation antiandrogen agent, is approved for the treatment of metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). While enzalutamide has been shown to improve time to progression and extend overall survival in men with CRPC, the majority of patients ultimately develop resistance to treatment. Immunotherapy approaches have shown limited clinical benefit in this patient population; understanding resistance mechanisms could help develop novel and more effective treatments for CRPC. One of the mechanisms involved in tumor resistance to various therapeutics is tumor phenotypic plasticity, whereby carcinoma cells acquire mesenchymal features with or without the loss of classical epithelial characteristics. This work investigated a potential link between enzalutamide resistance, tumor phenotypic plasticity, and resistance to immune-mediated lysis in prostate cancer.

Models of prostate cancer resistant to enzalutamide were established by long-term exposure of human prostate cancer cell lines to the drug in culture. Tumor cells were evaluated for phenotypic features in vitro and in vivo, as well as for sensitivity to immune effector cell-mediated cytotoxicity.

Resistance to enzalutamide was associated with gain of mesenchymal tumor features, upregulation of estrogen receptor expression, and significantly reduced tumor susceptibility to natural killer (NK)-mediated lysis, an effect that was associated with decreased tumor/NK cell conjugate formation with enzalutamide-resistant cells. Fulvestrant, a selective estrogen receptor degrader, restored the formation of target/NK cell conjugates and increased susceptibility to NK cell lysis in vitro. In vivo, fulvestrant demonstrated antitumor activity against enzalutamide-resistant cells, an effect that was associated with activation of NK cells.

NK cells are emerging as a promising therapeutic approach in prostate cancer. Modifying tumor plasticity via blockade of estrogen receptor with fulvestrant may offer an opportunity for immune intervention via NK cell-based approaches in enzalutamide-resistant CRPC.

Journal for immunotherapy of cancer. 2023 Sep [Epub]

Madeline Dahut, Kristen Fousek, Lucas A Horn, Shantel Angstadt, Haiyan Qin, Duane H Hamilton, Jeffrey Schlom, Claudia Palena

Center for Immuno-Oncology, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, USA., Center for Immuno-Oncology, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, USA .