Folate Receptor Beta Designates Immunosuppressive Tumor-Associated Myeloid Cells That Can Be Reprogrammed with Folate-Targeted Drugs

Gregory M. Cresswell, Bingbing Wang, Erin M. Kischuk, Meaghan M. Broman, Rami A. Alfar, Renee E. Vickman, Dimiter S. Dimitrov, Sumith A. Kularatne, Chandru P. Sundaram, Sunil Singhal, Evgeniy B. Eruslanov, Scott A. Crist, Bennett D. Elzey, Timothy L. Ratliff, Philip S. Low

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Although immunotherapies of tumors have demonstrated promise for altering the progression of malignancies, immunotherapies have been limited by an immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment (TME) that prevents infiltrating immune cells from performing their anticancer functions. Prominent among immunosuppressive cells are myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC) and tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) that inhibit T cells via release of immunosuppressive cytokines and engagement of checkpoint receptors. Here, we explore the properties of MDSCs and TAMs from freshly isolated mouse and human tumors and find that an immunosuppressive subset of these cells can be distinguished from the nonimmunosuppressive population by its upregulation of folate receptor beta (FRβ) within the TME and its restriction to the TME. This FRβ + subpopulation could be selectively targeted with folate-linked drugs. Delivery of a folate-targeted TLR7 agonist to these cells (i) reduced their immunosuppressive function, (ii) increased CD8 + T-cell infiltration, (iii) enhanced M1/M2 macrophage ratios, (iv) inhibited tumor growth, (v) blocked tumor metastasis, and (vi) improved overall survival without demonstrable toxicity. These data reveal a broadly applicable strategy across tumor types for reprogramming MDSCs and TAMs into antitumorigenic immune cells using a drug that would otherwise be too toxic to administer systemically. The data also establish FRβ as the first marker that distinguishes immunosuppressive from nonimmunosuppressive subsets of MDSCs and TAMs. Because all solid tumors accumulate MDSCs and TAMs, a general strategy to both identify and reprogram these cells should be broadly applied in the characterization and treatment of multiple tumors. SIGNIFICANCE: FRβ serves as both a means to identify and target MDSCs and TAMs within the tumor, allowing for delivery of immunomodulatory compounds to tumor myeloid cells in a variety of cancers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)671-684
Number of pages14
JournalCancer research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021


  • Adenocarcinoma/pathology
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor/metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms/pathology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes/drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Polarity
  • Cellular Reprogramming Techniques
  • Cytokines/metabolism
  • Folate Receptor 2/metabolism
  • Folic Acid/pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation/drug effects
  • Lung Neoplasms/pathology
  • Macrophages/cytology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Myeloid Cells/drug effects
  • Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells/immunology
  • Tumor Microenvironment/immunology
  • Tumor-Associated Macrophages/immunology
  • Up-Regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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