Targeting adenosine for cancer immunotherapy

Robert D. Leone, Leisha A. Emens

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Immune checkpoint antagonists (CTLA-4 and PD-1/PD-L1) and CAR T-cell therapies generate unparalleled durable responses in several cancers and have firmly established immunotherapy as a new pillar of cancer therapy. To extend the impact of immunotherapy to more patients and a broader range of cancers, targeting additional mechanisms of tumor immune evasion will be critical. Adenosine signaling has emerged as a key metabolic pathway that regulates tumor immunity. Adenosine is an immunosuppressive metabolite produced at high levels within the tumor microenvironment. Hypoxia, high cell turnover, and expression of CD39 and CD73 are important factors in adenosine production. Adenosine signaling through the A2a receptor expressed on immune cells potently dampens immune responses in inflamed tissues. In this article, we will describe the role of adenosine signaling in regulating tumor immunity, highlighting potential therapeutic targets in the pathway. We will also review preclinical data for each target and provide an update of current clinical activity within the field. Together, current data suggest that rational combination immunotherapy strategies that incorporate inhibitors of the hypoxia-CD39-CD73-A2aR pathway have great promise for further improving clinical outcomes in cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number57
JournalJournal for immunotherapy of cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018


  • A2a receptor
  • Adenosine
  • CD39
  • CD73
  • CTLA-4
  • Checkpoint blockade
  • Immunotherapy
  • PD-1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cancer Research


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