Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor Therapy Aggravates T Cell–Driven Plaque Inflammation in Atherosclerosis

Kikkie Poels, Mandy M.T. van Leent, Celine Boutros, Hubert Tissot, Séverine Roy, Anu E. Meerwaldt, Yohana C.A. Toner, Myrthe E. Reiche, Pascal J.H. Kusters, Tsveta Malinova, Stephan Huveneers, Audrey E. Kaufman, Venkatesh Mani, Zahi A. Fayad, Menno P.J. de Winther, Aurelien Marabelle, Willem J.M. Mulder, Caroline Robert, Tom T.P. Seijkens, Esther Lutgens (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment. However, immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) that target PD-1 (programmed cell death protein-1) and/or CTLA-4 (cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen-4) are commonly associated with acute immune-related adverse events. Accumulating evidence also suggests that ICIs aggravate existing inflammatory diseases. Objectives: As inflammation drives atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, we studied the propensity of short-term ICI therapy to aggravate atherosclerosis. Methods: We used 18F-FDG (2-deoxy-2-[fluorine-18]fluoro-D-glucose) positron emission tomography–computed tomography to detect macrophage-driven vascular and systemic inflammation in pembrolizumab and nivolumab/ipilimumab–treated melanoma patients. In parallel, atherosclerotic Ldlr–/– mice were treated with CTLA-4 and PD-1 inhibition to study the proinflammatory consequences of immune checkpoint inhibition. Results: ICI treatment did not affect 18F-FDG uptake in the large arteries, spleen, and bone marrow of melanoma patients, nor myeloid cell activation in blood and lymphoid organs in hyperlipidemic mice. In contrast, we found marked changes in the adaptive immune response (i.e., increased CD4+ effector T cell and CD8+ cytotoxic T cell numbers in lymphoid organs and the arterial wall of our hyperlipidemic mice). Although plaque size was unaffected, plaques had progressed toward a lymphoid-based inflammatory phenotype, characterized by a 2.7-fold increase of CD8+ T cells and a 3.9-fold increase in necrotic core size. Increased endothelial activation was observed with a 2.2-fold and 1.6-fold increase in vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 and intercellular adhesion molecule-1, respectively. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that combination therapy with anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-1 antibodies does not affect myeloid-driven vascular and systemic inflammation in melanoma patients and hyperlipidemic mice. However, short-term ICI therapy in mice induces T cell–mediated plaque inflammation and drives plaque progression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)599-610
Number of pages12
JournalJACC: CardioOncology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • atherosclerosis
  • CTLA4
  • immune checkpoint inhibitors
  • inflammation
  • PD-1


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