Targeting WEE1/AKT Restores p53-Dependent Natural Killer–Cell Activation to Induce Immune Checkpoint Blockade Responses in “Cold” Melanoma

Saketh S. Dinavahi, Yu Chi Chen, Kishore Punnath, Arthur Berg, Meenhard Herlyn, Momeneh Foroutan, Nicholas D. Huntington, Gavin P. Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment. Unfortunately, most tumor types do not respond to immunotherapy due to a lack of immune infiltration or “cold” tumor microenvironment (TME), a contributing factor in treatment failure. Activation of the p53 pathway can increase apoptosis of cancer cells, leading to enhanced antigen presentation, and can stimulate natural killer (NK) cells through expression of stress ligands. Therefore, modulation of the p53 pathway in cancer cells with wild-type TP53 has the potential to enhance tumor immunogenicity to NK cells, produce an inflammatory TME, and ultimately lead to tumor regression. In this study, we report simultaneous targeting of the AKT/WEE1 pathways is a novel and tolerable approach to synergistically induce p53 activation to inhibit tumor development. This approach reduced the growth of melanoma cells and induced plasma membrane surface localization of the ER-resident protein calreticulin, an indicator of immunogenic cell death (ICD). Increase in ICD led to enhanced expression of stress ligands recognized by the activating NK-cell receptor NKG2D, promoting tumor lysis. WEE1/AKT inhibition resulted in recruitment and activation of immune cells, including NK cells, in the TME, triggering an inflammatory cascade that transformed the “cold” TME of B16F10 melanoma into a “hot” TME that responded to anti–programmed cell death protein 1 (anti–PD-1), resulting in complete regression of established tumors. These results suggest that AKT/WEE1 pathway inhibition is a potential approach to broaden the utility of class-leading anti–PD-1 therapies by enhancing p53-mediated, NK cell–dependent tumor inflammation and supports the translation of this novel approach to further improve response rates for metastatic melanoma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-769
Number of pages13
JournalCancer Immunology Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Immunology
  • Cancer Research


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