Heterotypic cell-in-cell structures in colon cancer can be regulated by IL-6 and lead to tumor immune escape.


The Second Affiliated Hospital, The State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease, Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, Center for Inflammation, Immunology, & Immune-mediated disease, Guangzhou Medical University, Guangzhou, 510260, China. Electronic address: [Email]


Heterotypic CICs (cell-in-cell structures) have been found between tumor cells and various immune cells in a variety of cancer tissues. The frequency of CICs has been found to correlate with tumor malignancy in some studies but not in others. Herein, we examined in depth the CICs observed in colon cancer to determine their potential significance in disease progression. Heterotypic CICs were observed by histochemistry between epithelial cells and lymphocytes in an expanded spectrum of colon tissue from colitis to cancer and in vitro studies were performed using the colonic tumor cell line HCT8 and human peripheral blood lymphocytes. Our data revealed that the CICs formed by colonic epithelial cells and infiltrated lymphocytes not only positively correlated with tumor malignancy but also were upregulated by the inflammatory cytokine IL-6. In addition, we observed that colon cancer cells could initiate autophagy for survival after cytotoxic lymphocyte internalization and that IL-6 could also be involved in this process to promote the death of lymphocytes in CIC structures. Furthermore, certain changes were observed in tumor cells after experiencing CICs. Our findings suggest that CICs formed by colon cancer cells and lymphocytes contribute to tumor escape from immune surveillance, which could be facilitated by IL-6, and might represent a previously undescribed pathway for tumor cells to adapt and evade host immune defense.


Autophagy,Cell-in-cell,Colorectal cancer,IL-6,Immune escape,Lymphocyte,