Researchers uncover inhibitory role of ‘Ter cells’ in cancer therapies

A scientist looking into a microscope.

Targeted radiation is often used to study and treat diverse cancer types. A multidisciplinary research team based at the University of Chicago Medicine has recently focused on a type of cell that releases a protein that enhances resistance to cancer therapies and promotes tumor progression.

The study focused on Ter cells, which are extramedullary erythroid precursors that secrete the neuropeptide artemin. In the study, published in February 2021 in Ralph Weichselbaum, MD, Chair of Radiation and Cellular Oncology. "The promise of these approaches is exciting."

This study used animal models and samples from three different groups of patients who had received some combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radio-immunotherapy respectively for various forms of cancer, including lung cancer and melanoma.

Combinations of Ter cell depletion, blockade of artemin signaling, and immunotherapy, according to the authors, led to enhanced control of tumor burden in mice. Ter cell depletion, the authors noted, was dependent on an intact adaptive immune response, mediated by interferon-y.

Targeting the Ter artemin axis “enhanced the efficacy of immunotherapy in model systems,” Weichselbaum said. Reduced numbers of Ter cells and reduced expression of artemin and artemin signaling partners were all associated with improved outcomes in patients receiving radiotherapy, radioimmunotherapy and immunotherapy.

“Together, our study demonstrates the mutually apposing regulatory effects between radiotherapy or immunotherapy and tumor–induced splenic Ter cells,” the authors suggest.

These immunotherapies and combined treatments with radiotherapy, according to the authors, “warrant further research to understand the interactions between them and tumor-promoting pathways.”

“Radiotherapy and immunotherapy converge on elimination of tumor-promoting erythoid progenitor cells through adaptive immunity” was published February 24, 2021, in Science Translational Medicine. Additional authors are Y. Hou of Xi’an Jiaotong University and Ludwig Center for Metastasis Research at the University of Chicago; Xinshuang Yu of First Affiliated Hospital of Shandong; Zhida Liu, Xuezhi Cao and Yang-Xin Fu of University of Texas Southwest Medical Center; Enyu Rao of Xuzhou Medical University; Wenjun Wu of Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia; Sean Z. Luo of Whitney Young High School, Chicago; and H.L. Liang, Xiaona Huang, Liangliang Wang, Lei Li, Jason Bugno, Yanbin Fu, Steven Chmura, Wenxin Zheng, Ainhoa Arina, Jessica Jutzy, Anne R. McCall, Everett Vokes and Sean Pitroda of the University of Chicago.

Ralph R. Weichselbaum, MD

Ralph R. Weichselbaum, MD

Ralph R. Weichselbaum, MD, specializes in the potentially curative treatment of oligometastasis with radiation therapy. He serves as chair of the Department of Radiation and Cellular Oncology.

See Dr. Weichselbaum's profile