Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) have an important role in the tumor microenvironment. CAFs have the multifunctionality which strongly support cancer progression and the acquisition of therapeutic resistance by cancer cells. Near-infrared photoimmunotherapy (NIR-PIT) is a novel cancer treatment that uses a highly selective monoclonal antibody (mAb)-photosensitizer conjugate. We developed fibroblast activation protein (FAP)-targeted NIR-PIT, in which IR700 was conjugated to a FAP-specific antibody to target CAFs (CAFs-targeted NIR-PIT: CAFs-PIT). Thus, we hypothesized that the control of CAFs could overcome the resistance to conventional chemotherapy in esophageal cancer (EC). In this study, we evaluated whether EC cell acquisition of stronger malignant characteristics and refractoriness to chemoradiotherapy are mediated by CAFs. Next, we assessed whether the resistance could be rescued by eliminating CAF stimulation by CAFs-PIT in vitro and in vivo. Cancer cells acquired chemoradiotherapy resistance via CAF stimulation in vitro and 5-fluorouracil (FU) resistance in CAF-coinoculated tumor models in vivo. CAF stimulation promoted the migration/invasion of cancer cells and a stem-like phenotype in vitro, which were rescued by elimination of CAF stimulation. CAFs-PIT had a highly selective effect on CAFs in vitro. Finally, CAF elimination by CAFs-PIT in vivo demonstrated that the combination of 5-FU and NIR-PIT succeeded in producing 70.9% tumor reduction, while 5-FU alone achieved only 13.3% reduction, suggesting the recovery of 5-FU sensitivity in CAF-rich tumors. In conclusion, CAFs-PIT could overcome therapeutic resistance via CAF elimination. The combined use of novel targeted CAFs-PIT with conventional anticancer treatments can be expected to provide a more effective and sensible treatment strategy.
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