Methylglyoxal from gut microbes boosts radiosensitivity and radioimmunotherapy in rectal cancer by triggering endoplasmic reticulum stress and cGAS-STING activation

January, 01, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


Preoperative radiation therapy (preRT) is a fundamental aspect of neoadjuvant treatment for rectal cancer (RC), but the response to this treatment remains unsatisfactory. The combination of radiation therapy (RT) and immunotherapy (iRT) presents a promising approach to cancer treatment, though the underlying mechanisms are not yet fully understood. The gut microbiota may influence the response to RT and immunotherapy. Therefore, we aimed to identify the metabolism of gut microbiota to reverse radioresistance and enhance the efficacy of iRT.


Fecal and serum samples were prospectively collected from patients with locally advanced rectal cancer (LARC) who had undergone pre-RT treatment. Candidate gut microbiome-derived metabolites linked with radiosensitization were screened using 16s rRNA gene sequencing and ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography-mass coupled with mass spectrometry. In vitro and in vivo studies were conducted to assess the radiosensitizing effects of the metabolites including the syngeneic CT26 tumor model and HCT116 xenograft tumor model, transcriptomics and immunofluorescence. The CT26 abscopal effect modeling was employed to evaluate the combined effects of metabolites on iRT.


We initially discovered the gut microbiota-associated metabolite, methylglyoxal (MG), which accurately predicts the response to preRT (Area Under Curve (AUC) value of 0.856) among patients with LARC. Subsequently, we observed that MG amplifies the RT response in RC by stimulating intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reducing hypoxia in the tumor in vitro and in vivo. Additionally, our study demonstrated that MG amplifies the RT-induced activation of the cyclic guanosine monophosphate AMP synthase-stimulator of interferon genes pathway by elevating DNA double-strand breaks. Moreover, it facilitates immunogenic cell death generated by ROS-mediated endoplasmic reticulum stress, consequently leading to an increase in CD8+ T and natural killer cells infiltrated in the tumor immune microenvironment. Lastly, we discovered that the combination of anti-programmed cell death protein 1 (anti-PD1) therapy produced long-lasting complete responses in all irradiated tumor sites and half of the non-irradiated ones.


Our research indicates that MG shows promise as a radiosensitizer and immunomodulator for RC. Furthermore, we propose that combining MG with iRT has great potential for clinical practice.

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