Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Molecular Medicine

Major Professor

Dmitry I. Gabrilovich, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

George Blanck, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Julie Djeu, Ph.D

Committee Member

Peter Medveczky, M.D

Committee Member

Diana Lopez, Ph.D


T-cell suppression, NADPH Oxidase, Hypoxia, STAT3, HIF-1!


Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC) are a major component of the immune suppressive network that develops during cancer. MDSC down-regulate immune surveillance and antitumor immunity and facilitate tumor growth. The ability of MDSC to suppress T cell responses has been documented; however the mechanisms regulating this suppression remain to be understood. This work proposes a biological dichotomy of MDSC regulated by the tumor microenvironment. In peripheral lymphoid organs MDSC cause T-cell non-responsiveness that is antigen-specific. These MDSC have increased expression of NOX2, enabling them to produce large amounts of reactive oxygen species. Since the transcription factor STAT3 is substantially activated in MDSC, its potential role in upregulation of NOX2 expression was investigated. Over-expression of a constitutively active form of STAT3 increases expression of NOX2 subunits, whereas attenuation of STAT3 activity leads to decreased expression of NOX2. The significance of NOX2 in ROS generation is demonstrated in mice devoid of NOX2 function; NOX2- deficient MDSC are unable to inhibit antigen-induced activation of T cells. In contrast, MDSC within the tumor microenvironment have a diminished potential to generate ROS but acquire expression of arginase and inducible nitric oxide synthase, enzymes plicated in T cell non-responsiveness. Upregulation of these enzymes results in MDSC ability to inhibit lymphocyte response in absence of antigen presentation. The tumor microenvironment also promotes the differentiation of MDSC to tumor associated macrophages.

Hypoxia is an exclusive feature to the tumor microenvironment and we investigated its involvement in the properties of MDSC at the tumor site. Exposure of spleen MDSC to hypoxia converts MDSC to non-specific suppressors and induces a preferential differentiation to macrophages. Stabilization of HIF-1!, a transcription factor activated by hypoxia, induces similar changes in MDCS as hypoxic exposure. Finally, ablation of HIF-1! prevents MDSC from acquiring factors that enable the suppression of T cells in absence of antigen. These findings help to expand our understanding of the biology of MDSC and suggest a regulatory pathway of myeloid cell function exclusive to the tumor microenvironment. They may also open new opportunities for therapeutic regulation as we now should take into consideration how systemic location affects the function of MDSC.