Background: Myeloid-derived Suppressor Cells (MDSC) have been identified as tumor-induced immature myeloid cells (IMC) with potent immune suppressive activity in cancer. Whereas strict phenotypic classification of MDSC has been challenging due to the highly heterogeneous nature of cell surface marker expression, use of functional markers such as Arginase and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) may represent a better categorization strategy. In this study we investigated whether iNOS could be utilized as a specific marker for the identification of a more informative homogenous MDSC subset.Methods: Single-cell suspensions from tumors and other organs were prepared essentially by enzymatic digestion. Flow cytometric analysis was performed on a four-color flow cytometer. Morphology, intracellular structure and localization of iNOS+ ring cells in the tumor were determined by cytospin analysis, immunofluorescence microscopy and immunohistochemistry, respectively. For functional analysis, iNOS+ ring subset were sorted and tested in vitro cell culture experiments. Pharmacologic inhibition of iNOS was performed both in vivo and in vitro.Results: The results showed that intracellular iNOS staining distinguished a granular iNOS+ SSChi CD11b+ Gr-1dim F4/80+ subset with ring-shaped nuclei (ring cells) among the CD11b+ Gr-1+ cell populations found in tumors. The intensity of the ring cell infiltrate correlated with tumor size and these cells constituted the second major tumor-infiltrating leukocyte subset found in established tumors. Although phenotypic analysis demonstrated that ring cells shared characteristics with tumor-associated macrophages (TAM), morphological analysis revealed a neutrophil-like appearance as detected by cytospin and immunofluorescence microscopy analysis. The presence of distinct iNOS filled granule-like structures located next to the cell membrane suggested that iNOS was stored in pre-formed vesicles and available for rapid release upon activation. Tumor biopsies showed large areas with infiltrating ring cells primarily surrounding necrotic areas. Importantly, these cells significantly impaired CD8+ T-cell proliferation and induced apoptotic death. The intratumoral accumulation and suppressive activity of ring cells could be blocked through pharmacologic inhibition of iNOS, demonstrating the critical role of this enzyme in mediating both the differentiation and the activity of these cells.Conclusions: In this study, iNOS expression was linked to a homogeneous subset; ring cells with a particular phenotype and immune suppressive function, in a common and well-established murine tumor model; 4T-1. Since the absence of a Gr-1 homolog in humans has made the identification of MDSC much more challenging, use of iNOS as a functional marker of MDSC may also have clinical importance.
- Myeloid-derived Suppressor Cells (MDSC)
- Nitric oxide (NO)
- inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS)
- ring cell
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology