University Of Tasmania
Ong_2021_bioRxiv_pre-print_2020.09.06.274720v2.full.pdf (1.52 MB)
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NLRC5 regulates expression of MHC-I and provides a target for anti-tumor immunity in 3 transmissible cancers

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Purpose:Downregulation of MHC class I (MHC-I) is a common immune evasion strategy of many cancers. Similarly, two allogeneic clonal transmissible cancers have killed thousands of wild Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) and also modulate MHC-I expression to evade anti-cancer and allograft responses. IFNG treatment restores MHC-I expression on devil facial tumor (DFT) cells but is insufficient to control tumor growth. Transcriptional co-activator NLRC5 is a master regulator of MHC-I in humans and mice but its role in transmissible cancers remains unknown. In this study, we explored the regulation and role of MHC-I in these unique genetically mis-matched tumors.

Methods: We used transcriptome and flow cytometric analyses to determine how MHC-I shapes allogeneic and anti-tumor responses. Cell lines that overexpress NLRC5 to drive antigen presentation, and B2M-knockout cell lines incapable of presenting antigen on MHC-I were used to probe the role of MHC-I in rare cases of tumor regressions.

Results: Transcriptomic results suggest that NLRC5 plays a major role in MHC-I regulation in devils. NLRC5 was shown to drive the expression of many components of the antigen presentation pathway but did not upregulate PDL1. Serum from devils with tumor regressions showed strong binding to IFNG-treated and NLRC5 cell lines; antibody binding to IFNG-treated and NRLC5 transgenic tumor cells was diminished or absent following B2M knockout.

Conclusion: MHC-I could be identified as a target for anti-tumor and allogeneic immunity. Consequently, NLRC5 could be a promising target for immunotherapy and vaccines to protect devils from transmissible cancers and inform development of transplant and cancer therapies for humans.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology










Menzies Institute for Medical Research



Place of publication

175 Fifth Ave, New York, USA, Ny, 10010

Rights statement

Copyright the author

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Veterinary diagnostics; Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences; Expanding knowledge in the biomedical and clinical sciences