Macrophages represent the most abundant immune component of the tumor microenvironment and often exhibit protumorigenic (M2-like) phenotypes that contribute to disease progression. Despite their generally accepted protumorigenic role, macrophages can also display tumoricidal (or M1-like) behavior, revealing that macrophages can be functionally reprogrammed, depending on the cues received within the tumor microenvironment. Moreover, such plasticity may be achieved by pharmacologic or biologic interventions. To that end, we previously demonstrated that a novel immunomodulator termed the “very small size particle” (VSSP) facilitates maturation of dendritic cells and differentiation of myeloid-derived suppressor cells to APCs with reduced suppressive activity in cancer models. VSSP was further shown to act in the bone marrow to drive the differentiation of progenitors toward monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells during emergency myelopoiesis. However, the underlying mechanisms for VSSP-driven alterations in myeloid differentiation and function remained unclear. In this study, in mouse models, we focused on macrophages and tested the hypothesis that VSSP drives macrophages toward M1-like functional states via IRF8- and PU.1-dependent mechanisms. We further hypothesized that such VSSP-mediated actions would be accompanied by enhanced antitumor responses. Overall, we showed that (1) VSSP drives naive or M2-derived macrophages to M1-like states, (2) the M1-like state induced by VSSP occurs via IRF8- and PU.1-dependent mechanisms, and (3) single-agent VSSP induces an antitumor response that is accompanied by alterations in the intratumoral myeloid compartment. These results provide a deeper mechanistic underpinning of VSSP and strengthen its use to drive M1-like responses in host defense, including cancer.

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