Estrogen receptor beta signaling in CD8 + T cells boosts T cell receptor activation and antitumor immunity through a phosphotyrosine switch

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer








CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes; Immunity; Immunotherapy


Background: The non-overlapping functions of the two estrogen receptor subtypes, ERα (Estrogen Receptor α)and ERβ (Estrogen Receptor β), in tumor cells have been studied extensively. However, their counterparts in host cells is vastly underinterrogated. Even less is known about how ERα and ERβ activities are regulated in a subtype-specific manner. We previously identified a phosphotyrosine residue (pY36) of human ERβ that is important for tumor ERβ to inhibit growth of breast cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. A role of this ERβ phosphotyrosine switch in regulating host ERβ remains unclear. Conventional gene editing was used to mutate the corresponding tyrosine residue of endogenous mouse ERβ (Y55F) in mouse embryonic stem cells. The derived homozygous mutant Esr2 Y55F/Y55F mouse strain and its wild-type (WT) counterpart were compared in various transplant tumor models for their ability to support tumor growth. In addition, flow cytometry-based immunophenotyping was carried out to assess antitumor immunity of WT and mutant hosts. Adoptive transfer of bone marrow and purified CD8 + T cells were performed to identify the host cell type that harbors ERβ-dependent antitumor function. Furthermore, cell signaling assays were conducted to compare T cell receptor (TCR)-initiated signaling cascade in CD8 + T cells of WT and mutant mice. Lastly, the ERβ-selective agonist S-equol was evaluated for its efficacy to boost immune checkpoint blockade (ICB)-based anticancer immunotherapy. Disabling the ERβ-specific phosphotyrosine switch in tumor-bearing hosts exacerbates tumor growth. Further, a cell-autonomous ERβ function was defined in CD8 + effector T cells. Mechanistically, TCR activation triggers ERβ phosphorylation, which in turn augments the downstream TCR signaling cascade via a non-genomic action of ERβ. S-equol facilitates TCR activation that stimulates the ERβ phosphotyrosine switch and boosts anti-PD-1 (Programmed cell death protein 1) ICB immunotherapy. Our mouse genetic study clearly demonstrates a role of the ERβ phosphotyrosine switch in regulating ERβ-dependent antitumor immunity in CD8 + T cells. Our findings support the development of ERβ agonists including S-equol in combination with ICB immunotherapy for cancer treatment.