BackgroundA dynamic interaction between tumor cells and its surrounding stroma promotes the initiation, progression, metastasis, and chemoresistance of solid tumors. Emerging evidences suggest that targeting the stromal events could improve the efficacies of current therapeutics. Within tumor microenvironment (TME), stromal progenitor cells, i.e., MSCs, interact and eventually modulate the biology and functions of cancer and immune cells. Our recent finding disclosed a novel mechanism stating that tumor-associated MSCs inhibit the T cell proliferation and effector functions by blocking cysteine transport to T cells by dendritic cells (DCs), which makes MSCs as a compelling candidate as a therapeutic target. Immunomodulation by nontoxic neem leaf glycoprotein (NLGP) on dysfunctional cancer immunity offers significant therapeutic benefits to murine tumor host; however, its modulation on MSCs and its impact on T cell functions need to be elucidated.MethodsBone marrow-derived primary MSCs or murine 10 T1/2 MSCs were tumor-conditioned (TC-MSCs) and co-cultured with B16 melanoma antigen-specific DCs and MACS purified CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. T cell proliferation of T cells was checked by Ki67-based flow-cytometric and thymidine-incorporation assays. Cytokine secretion was measured by ELISA. The expression of cystathionase in DCs was assessed by RT-PCR. The STAT3/pSTAT3 levels in DCs were assessed by western blot, and STAT3 function was confirmed using specific SiRNA. Solid B16 melanoma tumor growth was monitored following adoptive transfer of conditioned CD8+ T cells.ResultsNLGP possesses an ability to restore anti-tumor T cell functions by modulating TC-MSCs. Supplementation of NLGP in DC-T cell co-culture significantly restored the inhibition in T cell proliferation and IFNγ secretion almost towards normal in the presence of TC-MSCs. Adoptive transfer of NLGP-treated TC-MSC supernatant educated CD8+ T cells in solid B16 melanoma bearing mice resulted in better tumor growth restriction than TC-MSC conditioned CD8+ T cells. NLGP downregulates IL-10 secretion by TC-MSCs, and concomitantly, pSTAT3 expression was downregulated in DCs in the presence of NLGP-treated TC-MSC supernatant. As pSTAT3 negatively regulates cystathionase expression in DCs, NLGP indirectly helps to maintain an almost normal level of cystathionase gene expression in DCs making them able to export sufficient amount of cysteine required for optimum T cell proliferation and effector functions within TME.ConclusionsNLGP could be a prospective immunotherapeutic agent to control the functions and behavior of highly immunosuppressive TC-MSCs providing optimum CD8+ T cell functions to showcase an important new approach that might be effective in overall cancer treatment.