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The gut microbiota and immune checkpoint inhibitors


Although immunotherapy has been remarkably effective across multiple cancer types, there continues to be a significant number of non-responding patients. A possible factor proposed to influence the efficacy of immunotherapies is the gut microbiome. We discuss the results and implications of recent research on the relationship between the gut microbiome, our immune systems, and immune checkpoint inhibitor therapies including anti-CTLA-4 Ab and anti-PD-1 Ab. While the investigations all exhibit interesting results and conclusions, we find little congruence in the specific bacteria that were found favorable for antitumor responses. It is unclear whether the inconsistencies are due to differential approaches in study design (pre-clinical or clinical subjects, anti-CTLA-4 Ab or anti-PD-1 Ab), experimental methods and measurements (metagenomics sequencing and clustering variations) or subject population dynamics (differential cancer types and baseline characteristics). Moreover, we note studies regarding particular bacterial commensals and autoimmune diseases, which challenge findings from these investigations. We conclude that with the current research, clinical investigators can appreciate the critical role of gut microbiota in mediating immunostimulant response. However, prospective research exploring the biochemical mechanisms which commensal bacteria communicate with each other and the immune system is imperative to understand how they can be adjusted properly for higher immunotherapy response.

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