Immune editing is a major mechanism used by tumors to promote their survival. We have previously reported the presence of immunosuppressive monocytes (CD14+HLA-DR low/neg) in a number of cancers. Increased presence of these cells was associated with decreased treatment response and OS. Here we report an in vitro model to examine tumor monocyte cross talk and demonstrate that these monocytes may directly promote tumor cells’ resistance to chemotherapy.


Monocytes from healthy donors were co-cultured with lymphoma cell lines (OCI-Ly1, OCI-Ly3, OCI-Ly7, OCI-Ly10, Su-DHL2, Su-DHL6, Jeko-1, Granta-519) with or without doxorubicin (DOX). Cultured cells were assessed for phenotype, viability, proliferation, and induced protein expression. Changes in vitro were confirmed in primary tissue by gene expression profile from 48 primary diffuse large B cell (DLBCL) lymphoma tumors.


Monocytes converted CD14+HLA-DR+ to the CD14+HLA-DRlow/neg phenotype by co-culture with 5 of the 8 B cell lymphoma cell lines. The HLA-DR suppression was not due to the known regulatory effects of IL-10 nor was the effect seen in co-culture using B cells from healthy donors. Thus, the magnitude of DR loss is mediated by a yet undetermined mechanism. DOX incubation induced apoptosis in all of the cell lines. Co-culture with monocytes improved lymphoma cell survival in 3 of the 4 lymphoma cell lines. For example, untreated OCI-Ly3 had a 1.3±0.2 fold expansion that was reduced to 0.6±0.1 when treated with DOX (p<0.0001, n=13). However, when the cells were treated with DOX and co-cultured with monocytes the survival improved to 0.8±0.2 (p<0.0001, n=13). Having previously shown that CD14+HLA-DRlow/neg were capable of suppressing patient immunity, partially through arginase I, we determined if co-culture of monocytes with tumor cells increased arginase I expression in either monocytes or tumor cells. Not only did we see arginase I expression increases during co-culture(n=10, p<0.01), but surprisingly, the greatest increases were seen during co-culture and DOX treatment (n=10, p=0.01). To determine if our in vitro observations reflect human tumors, we used gene expression data obtained from 48 DLBCL tumors and found that increased CD14 gene expression was positively correlated with increased arginase I expression (n=48, p=0.02).


We have demonstrated that certain tumor cells induced phenotype changes in monocytes in an IL-10 independent and a tumor specific way. In those cells where tumors factors mediate monocyte phenotype, the monocytes can promote tumor cell resistance to cytotoxic killing by DOX, thus demonstrating a cross-talk between monocyte and tumor function. We found that in an environment of monocyte/tumor cross talk, arginase I expression is further increased in a cytotoxic environment. Together, this data demonstrates an active cross talk between monocytes and tumors resulting in multiple mechanisms of tumor resistance to chemotherapy.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.