Emerging role of autophagy in anti-tumor immunity: Implications for the modulation of immunotherapy resistance

Ting Jiang, Xisha Chen, Xingcong Ren, Jin Ming Yang, Yan Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Immunotherapies such as CAR-T cell transfer and antibody-targeted therapy have produced promising clinical outcomes in patients with advanced and metastatic cancer that are resistant to conventional therapies. However, with increasing use of cancer immunotherapy in clinical treatment, multiple therapy-resistance mechanisms have gradually emerged. The tumor microenvironment (TME), an integral component of cancer, can significantly influence the therapeutic response. Thus, it is worth exploring the potential of TME in modulating therapy resistance, in the hope to devise novel strategies to reinforcing anti-cancer treatments such as immunotherapy. As a crucial recycling process in the complex TME, the role of autophagy in tumor immunity has been increasingly appreciated. Firstly, autophagy in tumor cells can affect their immune response through modulating MHC-I-antigen complexes, thus modulating immunogenic tumor cell death, changing functions of immune cells via secretory autophagy, reducing the NK- and CTL-mediated cell lysis and degradation of immune checkpoint proteins. Secondly, autophagy is critical for the differentiation, maturation and survival of immune cells in the TME and can significantly affect the immune function of these cells, thereby regulating the anti-tumor immune response. Thirdly, alteration of autophagic activity in stromal cells, especially in fibroblasts, can reconstruct the three-dimensional stromal environment and metabolic reprogramming in the TME. A number of studies have demonstrated that optimal induction or inhibition of autophagy may lead to effective therapeutic regimens when combined with immunotherapy. This review discusses the important roles of autophagy in tumor cells, immune cells and stromal cells in the context of tumor immunity, and the potential of combining the autophagy-based therapy with immunotherapy as novel therapeutic approaches against cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100752
JournalDrug Resistance Updates
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • Autophagy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Resistance
  • Tumor immunity
  • Tumor microenvironment (TME)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cancer Research
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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