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Qualitative Analysis of Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes across Human Tumor Types Reveals a Higher Proportion of Bystander CD8+ T Cells in Non-Melanoma Cancers Compared to Melanoma

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Background: Human intratumoral T cell infiltrates can be defined by quantitative or qualitative features, such as their ability to recognize autologous tumor antigens. In this study, we reproduced the tumor-T cell interactions of individual patients to determine and compared the qualitative characteristics of intratumoral T cell infiltrates across multiple tumor types. Methods: We employed 187 pairs of unselected tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) and autologous tumor cells from patients with melanoma, renal-, ovarian-cancer or sarcoma, and single-cell RNA sequencing data from a pooled cohort of 93 patients with melanoma or epithelial cancers. Measures of TIL quality including the proportion of tumor-reactive CD8+ and CD4+ TILs, and TIL response polyfunctionality were determined. Results: Tumor-specific CD8+ and CD4+ TIL responses were detected in over half of the patients in vitro, and greater CD8+ TIL responses were observed in melanoma, regardless of previous anti-PD-1 treatment, compared to renal cancer, ovarian cancer and sarcoma. The proportion of tumor-reactive CD4+ TILs was on average lower and the differences less pronounced across tumor types. Overall, the proportion of tumor-reactive TILs in vitro was remarkably low, implying a high fraction of TILs to be bystanders, and highly variable within the same tumor type. In situ analyses, based on eight single-cell RNA-sequencing datasets encompassing melanoma and five epithelial cancers types, corroborated the results obtained in vitro. Strikingly, no strong correlation between the proportion of CD8+ and CD4+ tumor-reactive TILs was detected, suggesting the accumulation of these responses in the tumor microenvironment to follow non-overlapping biological pathways. Additionally, no strong correlation between TIL responses and tumor mutational burden (TMB) in melanoma was observed, indicating that TMB was not a major driving force of response. No substantial differences in polyfunctionality across tumor types were observed. Conclusions: These analyses shed light on the functional features defining the quality of TIL infiltrates in cancer. A significant proportion of TILs across tumor types, especially non-melanoma, are bystander T cells. These results highlight the need to develop strategies focused on the tumor-reactive TIL subpopulation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3344
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

    Research areas

  • Immunotherapy, Tumor microenvironment, Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes

ID: 61349667