Targeting the Immunomodulatory CD73/Adenosine System to Improve the Therapeutic Gain of Radiotherapy

Extracellular adenosine is a potent endogenous immunosuppressive mediator critical to the maintenance of homeostasis in various normal tissues including the lung. Adenosine is either released from stressed or injured cells or generated from extracellular adenine nucleotides by the concerted action of the ectoenzymes ectoapyrase (CD39) and 5′ ectonucleotidase (CD73) that catabolize ATP to adenosine. An acute CD73-dependent increase of adenosine in normal tissues mostly exerts tissue protective functions whereas chronically increased adenosine-levels in tissues exposed to DNA damaging chemotherapy or radiotherapy promote pathologic remodeling processes and fibrosis for example in the skin and the lung. Importantly, cancer cells also express CD73 and high CD73 expression in the tumor tissue has been linked to poor overall survival and recurrence free survival in patients suffering from breast and ovarian cancer. CD73 and adenosine support growth-promoting neovascularization, metastasis, and survival in cancer cells. In addition, adenosine can promote tumor intrinsic or therapy-induced immune escape by various mechanisms that dampen the immune system. Consequently, modulating CD73 or cancer-derived adenosine in the tumor microenvironment emerges as an attractive novel therapeutic strategy to limit tumor progression, improve antitumor immune responses, avoid therapy-induced immune deviation, and potentially limit normal tissue toxicity. However, the role of CD73/adenosine signaling in the tumor and normal tissue responses to radiotherapy and its use as therapeutic target to improve the outcome of radiotherapy approaches is less understood. The present review will highlight the dual role of CD73 and adenosine in tumor and tissue responses to radiotherapy with a special focus to the lung. It will also discuss the potential benefits and risks of pharmacologic modulation of the CD73/adenosine system to increase the therapeutic gain of radiotherapy or combined radioimmunotherapy in cancer treatment.


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