Immune checkpoint blockade, exemplified by antibodies targeting the PD-1 receptor, can induce durable tumor regressions in some patients. To enhance the efficacy of existing immunotherapies, we screened for small molecules capable of increasing the activity of T cells suppressed by PD-1. Here, we show that short-term exposure to small-molecule inhibitors of cyclindependent kinases 4 and 6 (CDK4/6) significantly enhances T-cell activation, contributing to antitumor effects in vivo, due in part to the derepression of NFAT family proteins and their target genes, critical regulators of T-cell function. Although CDK4/6 inhibitors decrease T-cell proliferation, they increase tumor infiltration and activation of effector T cells. Moreover, CDK4/6 inhibition augments the response to PD-1 blockade in a novel ex vivo organotypic tumor spheroid culture system and in multiple in vivo murine syngeneic models, thereby providing a rationale for combining CDK4/6 inhibitors and immunotherapies.
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