Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) expressing γδ T-cell receptors (γδTCRs) play key roles in elimination of colon cancer. However, the precise mechanisms by which progressing cancer cells evade immunosurveillance by these innate T cells are unknown. Here, we investigated how loss of the Apc tumor suppressor in gut tissue could enable nascent cancer cells to escape immunosurveillance by cytotoxic γδIELs. In contrast with healthy intestinal or colonic tissue, we found that γδIELs were largely absent from the microenvironment of both mouse and human tumors, and that butyrophilin-like (BTNL) molecules, which can critically regulate γδIEL through direct γδTCR interactions, were also downregulated in tumors. We then demonstrated that β-catenin activation through loss of Apc rapidly suppressed expression of the mRNA encoding the HNF4A and HNF4G transcription factors, preventing their binding to promoter regions of Btnl genes. Re-expression of BTNL1 and BTNL6 in cancer cells increased γδIEL survival and activation in co-culture assays but failed to augment their cancer-killing ability in vitro or their recruitment to orthotopic tumors. However, inhibition of β-catenin signaling via genetic deletion of Bcl9/Bcl9l in either Apc-deficient or mutant β-catenin mouse models restored Hnf4a, Hnf4g, and Btnl gene expression and γδ T-cell infiltration into tumors. These observations highlight an immune-evasion mechanism specific to WNT-driven colon cancer cells that disrupts γδIEL immunosurveillance and furthers cancer progression.

Original publication




Journal article


Cancer immunology research

Publication Date



CRUK Beatson Institute/University of Glasgow, United Kingdom.