BackgroundTNF receptor family agonists and checkpoint blockade combination therapies lead to minimal tumor clearance of poorly immunogenic tumors. Therefore, a need to enhance the efficacy of this combination therapy arises. Antigen-presenting cells (APCs) present antigen to T cells and steer the immune response through chemokine and cytokine secretion. DRibbles (DR) are tumor-derived autophagosomes containing tumor antigens and innate inflammatory adjuvants.MethodsUsing preclinical murine lung and pancreatic cancer models, we assessed the triple combination therapy of GITR agonist and PD-1 blocking antibodies with peritumoral injections of DRibbles-pulsed-bone marrow cells (BMCs), which consisted mainly of APCs, or CD103+ cross-presenting dendritic cells (DCs). Immune responses were assessed by flow cytometry. FTY720 was used to prevent T-cell egress from lymph nodes to assess lymph node involvement, and MHC-mismatched-BMCs were used to assess the necessity of antigen presentation by the peritumorally-injected DR-APCs.ResultsTritherapy increased survival and cures in tumor-bearing mice compared to combined antibody therapy or peritumoral DR-BMCs alone. Peritumorally-injected BMCs remained within the tumor for at least 14 days and tritherapy efficacy was dependent on both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. Although the overall percent of tumor-infiltrating T cells remained similar, tritherapy increased the ratio of effector CD4+ T cells-to-regulatory T cells, CD4+ T-cell cytokine production and proliferation, and CD8+ T-cell cytolytic activity in the tumor. Despite tritherapy-induced T-cell activation and cytolytic activity in lymph nodes, this T-cell activation was not required for tumor regression and enhanced survival. Replacement of DR-BMCs with DR-pulsed-DCs in the tritherapy led to similar antitumor effects, whereas replacement with DRibbles was less effective but delayed tumor growth. Interestingly, peritumoral administration of DR-pulsed MHC-mismatched-APCs in the tritherapy led to similar antitumor effects as MHC-matched-APCs, indicating that the observed enhanced antitumor effect was mediated independently of antigen presentation by the administered APCs.ConclusionsOverall, these results demonstrate that peritumoral DR-pulsed-BMC/DC administration synergizes with GITR agonist and PD-1 blockade to locally modulate and sustain tumor effector T-cell responses independently of T cell priming and perhaps through innate inflammatory modulations mediated by the DRibbles adjuvant. We offer a unique approach to modify the tumor microenvironment to benefit T-cell-targeted immunotherapies.