Necroptosis, a regulated form of necrosis, has emerged as a novel therapeutic strategy that could enhance cancer immunotherapy. However, its role in tumorigenesis is still debated because recent studies have reported both anti- and pro-tumoral effects. Here, we aimed to systematically evaluate the associations between tumor necroptosis (mixed lineage kinase domain-like protein, MLKL; phosphorylated MLKL, pMLKL; and receptor-interacting protein kinase 1–receptor-interacting protein kinase 3, RIPK1–RIPK3 interaction) and tumor-infiltrating immune cells (CD8+ and FOXp3+ T cells and CD163+ M2 macrophages) and tumor PD-L1 by immunohistochemistry in 88 cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) patients who had undergone surgical resection. Their associations with clinicopathological characteristics, survival data, and prognosis were evaluated. MLKL was found to be an unfavorable prognostic factor (p-value = 0.023, HR = 2.070) and was inversely correlated with a clinically favorable immune cell signature (high CD8+/high FOXp3+/low CD163+). Both pMLKL and RIPK1–RIPK3 interaction were detected in CCA primary tissues. In contrast to MLKL, pMLKL status was significantly positively correlated with a favorable immune signature (high CD8+/high FOXp3+/low CD163+) and PD-L1 expression. Patients with high pMLKL-positive staining were significantly associated with an increased abundance of CD8+ T cell intratumoral infiltration (p-value = 0.006). Patients with high pMLKL and PD-L1 expressions had a longer overall survival (OS). The results from in vitro experiments showed that necroptosis activation in an RMCCA-1 human CCA cell line selectively promoted proinflammatory cytokine and chemokine expression. Jurkat T cells stimulated with necroptotic RMCCA-1-derived conditioned medium promoted PD-L1 expression in RMCCA-1. Our findings demonstrated the differential associations of necroptosis activation (pMLKL) and MLKL with a clinically favorable immune signature and survival rates and highlighted a novel therapeutic possibility for combining a necroptosis-based therapeutic approach with immune checkpoint inhibitors for more efficient treatment of CCA patients.
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