The immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment (TME) in glioblastoma (GBM) is mainly driven by tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs). We explored whether their sustained iron metabolism and immunosuppressive activity were correlated, and whether blocking the central enzyme of the heme catabolism pathway, heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), could reverse their tolerogenic activity. To this end, we investigated iron metabolism in bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMDMs) isolated from GBM specimens and in in vitro-derived macrophages (M phi) from healthy donor (HD) blood monocytes. We found that HO-1 inhibition abrogated the immunosuppressive activity of both BMDMs and M phi, and that immunosuppression requires both cell-to-cell contact and soluble factors, as HO-1 inhibition abolished IL-10 release, and significantly reduced STAT3 activation as well as PD-L1 expression. Interestingly, not only did HO-1 inhibition downregulate IDO1 and ARG-2 gene expression, but also reduced IDO1 enzymatic activity. Moreover, T cell activation status affected PD-L1 expression and IDO1 activity, which were upregulated in the presence of activated, but not resting, T cells. Our results highlight the crucial role of HO-1 in the immunosuppressive activity of macrophages in the GBM TME and demonstrate the feasibility of reprogramming them as an alternative therapeutic strategy for restoring immune surveillance.
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