ARTICLE ABSTRACTThe tryptophan-metabolizing enzyme indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase 1 (IDO1) is frequently overexpressed in epithelial-derived malignancies, where it plays a recognized role in promoting tumor immune tolerance. We previously demonstrated that the IDO1–kynurenine pathway (KP) also directly supports colorectal cancer growth by promoting activation of β-catenin and driving neoplastic growth in mice lacking intact adaptive immunity. In this study, we sought to delineate the specific role of epithelial IDO1 in colon tumorigenesis and define how IDO1 and KP metabolites interact with pivotal neoplastic signaling pathways of the colon epithelium. We generated a novel intestinal epithelial–specific IDO1 knockout mouse and utilized established colorectal cancer cell lines containing β-catenin–stabilizing mutations, human colorectal cancer samples, and human-derived epithelial organoids (colonoids and tumoroids). Mice with intestinal epithelial–specific knockout of IDO1 developed fewer and smaller tumors than wild-type littermates in a model of inflammation-driven colon tumorigenesis. Moreover, their tumors exhibited reduced nuclear β-catenin and neoplastic proliferation but increased apoptosis. Mechanistically, KP metabolites (except kynurenic acid) rapidly activated PI3K-Akt signaling in the neoplastic epithelium to promote nuclear translocation of β-catenin, cellular proliferation, and resistance to apoptosis. Together, these data define a novel cell-autonomous function and mechanism by which IDO1 activity promotes colorectal cancer progression. These findings may have implications for the rational design of new clinical trials that exploit a synergy of IDO1 inhibitors with conventional cancer therapies for which Akt activation provides resistance such as radiation.
Significance: This study identifies a new mechanistic link between IDO1 activity and PI3K/AKT signaling, both of which are important pathways involved in cancer growth and resistance to cancer therapy.