Favorable impact of PD1/PD-L1 antagonists on bone remodeling: an exploratory prospective clinical study and ex vivo validation

May, 05, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


Skeletal morbidity in patients with cancer has a major impact on the quality of life, and preserving bone health while improving outcomes is an important goal of modern antitumor treatment strategies. Despite their widespread use in early disease stages, the effects of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) on the skeleton are still poorly defined. Here, we initiated a comprehensive investigation of the impact of ICIs on bone health by longitudinal assessment of bone turnover markers in patients with cancer and by validation in a novel bioengineered 3D model of bone remodeling.


An exploratory longitudinal study was conducted to assess serum markers of bone resorption (C-terminal telopeptide, CTX) and formation (procollagen type I N-terminal propeptide, PINP, and osteocalcin, OCN) before each ICI application (programmed cell death 1 (PD1) inhibitor or programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) inhibitor) for 6 months or until disease progression in patients with advanced cancer and no evidence of bone metastases. To validate the in vivo results, we evaluated osteoclast (OC) and osteoblast (OB) differentiation on treatment with ICIs. In addition, their effect on bone remodeling was assessed by immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy, and proteomics analysis in a dynamic 3D bone model.


During the first month of treatment, CTX levels decreased sharply but transiently. In contrast, we observed a delayed increase of serum levels of PINP and OCN after 4 months of therapy. In vitro, ICIs impaired the maturation of preosteoclasts by inhibiting STAT3/NFATc1 signaling but not JNK, ERK, and AKT while lacking any direct effect on osteogenesis. However, using our bioengineered 3D bone model, which enables the simultaneous differentiation of OB and OC precursor cells, we confirmed the uncoupling of the OC/OB activity on exposure to ICIs by demonstrating impaired OC maturation along with increased OB differentiation.


Our study indicates that the inhibition of the PD1/PD-L1 signaling axis interferes with bone turnover and may exert a protective effect on bone by indirectly promoting osteogenesis.

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