Research findings related to UNITE work package B01

Intrinsic malignant brain tumors, such as glioblastomas are frequently resistant to immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) with few hypermutated glioblastomas showing response. Modeling patient-individual resistance is challenging due to the lack of predictive biomarkers and limited accessibility of tissue for serial biopsies. Here, Michael Platten et al. investigate resistance mechanisms to anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA-4 therapy in syngeneic hypermutated experimental gliomas and show a clear dichotomy and acquired immune heterogeneity in ICB-responder and non-responder tumors. They made use of this dichotomy to establish a radiomic signature predicting tumor regression after pseudoprogression induced by ICB therapy based on serial magnetic resonance imaging. They provide evidence that macrophage-driven ICB resistance is established by CD4 T cell suppression and Treg expansion in the tumor microenvironment via the PD-L1/PD-1/CD80 axis. These findings uncover an unexpected heterogeneity of response to ICB in strictly syngeneic tumors and provide a rationale for targeting PD-L1-expressing tumor-associated macrophages to overcome resistance to ICB.


Aslan K, Turco V, Blobner J, Sonner JK, Liuzzi AR, Núñez NG, De Feo D, Kickingereder P*, Fischer M, Green E, Sadik A, Friedrich M, Sanghvi K, Kilian M, Cichon F, Wolf L, Jähne K, von Landenberg A, Bunse L*, Sahm F*, Schrimpf D, Meyer J, Alexander A, Brugnara G, Röth R, Pfleiderer K, Niesler B, von Deimling A, Opitz C, Breckwoldt MO, Heiland S, Bendszus M*, Wick W*, Becher B, Platten M*. Heterogeneity of response to immune checkpoint blockade in hypermutated experimental gliomas. Nat Commun. 2020 Feb 18;11(1):931. *UNITE Principle Investigators

Research findings related to clinical trial development within UNITE

O6-methylguanine DNA-methyl transferase (MGMT) promoter methylation status is predictive for alkylating chemotherapy, but there are non-benefitting subgroups. The long-term update of NOA-08 compared efficacy and safety of radiotherapy (RT, n=176) and temozolomide at 7/14 days (TMZ, n=193) in patients >65 years with anaplastic astrocytoma or glioblastoma. DNA methylation patterns and copy number variations were assessed in the biomarker cohort of 104 patients and in an independent cohort of 188 patients treated with RT+TMZ-containing regimens in Heidelberg.  Wick et al. showed that MGMT promoter methylation is a strong predictive biomarker for the choice between RT and TMZ. It indicates favorable long-term outcome with initial TMZ monotherapy in patients with MGMT promoter-methylated tumors primarily in the RTK II subgroup.



Wick A, Kessler T*, Platten M*, Meisner C, Bamberg M, Herrlinger U, Felsberg J, Weyerbrock A, Papsdorf K, Steinbach JP, Sabel M, Vesper J, Debus J, Meixensberger J, Ketter R, Hertler C, Mayer-Steinacker R, Weisang S, Bölting H, Reuss D, Reifenberger G, Sahm F*, von Deimling A*, Weller M, Wick W*; NOA-08 Study Group of the Neurooncology Working Group (NOA) of the German Cancer Society. Superiority of temozolomide over radiotherapy for elderly patients with RTK II methylation class, MGMT promoter-methylated malignant astrocytoma. Neuro Oncol. 2020 Feb 17. pii: noaa033. *UNITE Principle Investigators


Research findings related to UNITE work package A01

A network of communicating tumour cells that is connected by tumour microtubes mediates the progression of incurable gliomas. Moreover, neuronal activity can foster malignant behaviour of glioma cells by non-synaptic paracrine and autocrine mechanisms. Here Kuner et al. report a direct communication channel between neurons and glioma cells in different disease models and human tumours: functional bona fide chemical synapses between presynaptic neurons and postsynaptic glioma cells. These neurogliomal synapses show a typical synaptic ultrastructure, are located on tumour microtubes, and produce postsynaptic currents that are mediated by glutamate receptors of the AMPA subtype. Neuronal activity including epileptic conditions generates synchronised calcium transients in tumour-microtube-connected glioma networks. Glioma-cell-specific genetic perturbation of AMPA receptors reduces calcium-related invasiveness of tumour-microtube-positive tumour cells and glioma growth. Invasion and growth are also reduced by anaesthesia and the AMPA receptor antagonist perampanel, respectively. These findings reveal a biologically relevant direct synaptic communication between neurons and glioma cells with potential clinical implications.



Venkataramani V, Tanev DI, Strahle C, Studier-Fischer A, Fankhauser L, Kessler T*, Körber C, Kardorff M, Ratliff M*, Xie R, Horstmann H, Messer M, Paik SP, Knabbe J, Sahm F, Kurz FT, Acikgöz AA, Herrmannsdörfer F, Agarwal A, Bergles DE, Chalmers A, Miletic H, Turcan S*, Mawrin C, Hänggi D, Liu HK*, Wick W*, Winkler F*, Kuner T. Glutamatergic synaptic input to glioma cells drives brain tumour progression. Nature. 2019 Sep;573(7775):532-538. *UNITE Principle Investigators