Fractionated Radiation Severely Reduces the Number of CD8+ T Cells and Mature Antigen Presenting Cells Within Lung Tumors

Eva Reijmen, Sven De Mey, Wout De Mey, Thierry Gevaert, Kirsten De Ridder, Hanne Locy, Sandrina Martens, Emmy De Blay, Luc Bouwens, Pieterjan Debie, Karine Breckpot, Jacques De Grève, Mark De Ridder, Cleo Goyvaerts

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PURPOSE: The combination of standard-of-care radiation therapy (RT) with immunotherapy is moving to the mainstream of non-small cell lung cancer treatment. Multiple preclinical studies reported on the CD8+ T cell stimulating properties of RT, resulting in abscopal therapeutic effects. A literature search demonstrates that most preclinical lung cancer studies applied subcutaneous lung tumor models. Hence, in-depth immunologic evaluation of clinically relevant RT in orthotopic lung cancer models is lacking.

METHODS AND MATERIALS: We studied the therapeutic and immunologic effects of low-dose fractionated RT on lungs from C57BL/6 mice, challenged 2 weeks before with firefly luciferase expressing Lewis lung carcinoma cells via the tail vein. Low-dose fractionation was represented by 4 consecutive daily fractions of image guided RT at 3.2 Gy.

RESULTS: We showed reduced lung tumor growth upon irradiation using in vivo bioluminescence imaging and immunohistochemistry. Moreover, significant immunologic RT-induced changes were observed in irradiated lungs and in the periphery (spleen and blood). First, a significant decrease in the number of CD8+ T cells and trends toward more CD4+ and regulatory T cells were seen after RT in all evaluated tissues. Notably, only in the periphery did the remaining CD8+ T cells show a more activated phenotype. In addition, a significant expansion of neutrophils and monocytes was observed upon RT locally and systemically. Locally, RT increased the influx of tumor-associated macrophages and conventional type 2 dendritic cells, whereas the alveolar macrophages and conventional type 1 DCs dramatically decreased. Functionally, these antigen-presenting cells severely reduced their CD86 expression, suggesting a reduced capacity to induce potent immunity.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results imply that low-dose fractionated RT of tumor-bearing lung tissue shifts the immune cell balance toward an immature myeloid cell dominating profile. These data argue for myeloid cell repolarizing strategies to enhance the abscopal effects in patients with non-small cell lung cancer treated with fractionated RT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-283
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics
Issue number1
Early online date15 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2021 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Radiation therapy
  • Lung cancer


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