These NO-producing cells, a.k.a. myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), normally use nitric oxide to help bring the immune system back down to surveillance levels after an "attack mode" response to foreign material.
The impotence drugs seem to reverse this process, stopping the production of nitric oxide by MDSCs thereby allowing other immune cells to "see" the cancer and attack it, says Paolo Serafini, Ph.D., a research fellow in Borrello’s laboratory and lead author on the paper.
Nitric oxide is infamous among city dwellers as a component of air-polluting smog, but is gaining importance in medical research for its cell-signaling duties and its ability to divert soldiering T-cells that patrol and protect.
The Hopkins team also analyzed gene expression patterns of the myeloid-derived suppressor cells and found that sildenafil blocked two genes regulating enzymes -- arginase and nitric oxide synthase -- which are key to triggering immune suppression via MDSCs. Borrello’s team found that the arginase enzyme, which metabolizes a dietary supplement called L-arginine, also contributes to dampening the immune system through MDSCs much like nitric oxide, and its production can be reversed by sildenafil.
"Impotence drugs won’t cure cancer," Borello cautioned, "but could be used in addition to standard chemotherapy or immunotherapy treatments."
The investigators are planning human studies to begin in the next year.
Source:Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions