Stimulator of Interferon Genes Pathway Activation through the Controlled Release of STINGel Mediates Analgesia and Anti-Cancer Effects in Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Minh Phuong Dong, Neeraja Dharmaraj, Estela Kaminagakura, Jianfei Xue, David G. Leach, Jeffrey D. Hartgerink, Michael Zhang, Hana Joy Hanks, Yi Ye, Bradley E. Aouizerat, Kyle Vining, Carissa M. Thomas, Sinisa Dovat, Simon Young, Chi T. Viet

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Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) presents significant treatment challenges due to its poor survival and intense pain at the primary cancer site. Cancer pain is debilitating, contributes to diminished quality of life, and causes opioid tolerance. The stimulator of interferon genes (STING) agonism has been investigated as an anti-cancer strategy. We have developed STINGel, an extended-release formulation that prolongs the availability of STING agonists, which has demonstrated an enhanced anti-tumor effect in OSCC compared to STING agonist injection. This study investigates the impact of intra-tumoral STINGel on OSCC-induced pain using two separate OSCC models and nociceptive behavioral assays. Intra-tumoral STINGel significantly reduced mechanical allodynia in the orofacial cancer model and alleviated thermal and mechanical hyperalgesia in the hind paw model. To determine the cellular signaling cascade contributing to the antinociceptive effect, we performed an in-depth analysis of immune cell populations via single-cell RNA-seq. We demonstrated an increase in M1-like macrophages and N1-like neutrophils after STINGel treatment. The identified regulatory pathways controlled immune response activation, myeloid cell differentiation, and cytoplasmic translation. Functional pathway analysis demonstrated the suppression of translation at neuron synapses and the negative regulation of neuron projection development in M2-like macrophages after STINGel treatment. Importantly, STINGel treatment upregulated TGF-β pathway signaling between various cell populations and peripheral nervous system (PNS) macrophages and enhanced TGF-β signaling within the PNS itself. Overall, this study sheds light on the mechanisms underlying STINGel-mediated antinociception and anti-tumorigenic impact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number920
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology

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