We examined the immune microenvironment of primary colorectal cancer (CRC) using immunohistochemistry, laser capture microdissection/qRT-PCR, flow cytometry and functional analysis of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes. A subset of CRC displayed high infiltration with activated CD8+ CTL as well as activated Th1 cells characterized by IFN-gamma production and the Th1 transcription factor Tbet. Parallel analysis of tumor genotypes revealed that virtually all of the tumors with this active Th1/CTL microenvironment had defects in mismatch repair, as evidenced by microsatellite instability (MSI). Counterbalancing this active Th1/CTL microenvironment, MSI tumors selectively demonstrated highly up-regulated expression of multiple immune checkpoints, including five - PD-1, PD-L1, CTLA-4, LAG-3 and IDO - currently being targeted clinically with inhibitors. These findings link tumor genotype with the immune microenvironment, and explain why MSI tumors are not naturally eliminated despite a hostile Th1/CTL microenvironment. They further suggest that blockade of specific checkpoints may be selectively efficacious in the MSI subset of CRC. Our findings are the first to demonstrate a link between a genetically defined subtype of cancer and its corresponding expression of immune checkpoints in the tumor microenvironment. The mismatch repair defective subset of CRC selectively up-regulates at least 5 checkpoint molecules that are targets of inhibitors currently being clinically tested. Furthermore, our results were clinically validated in a phase 2 study at Hopkins which showed mismatch-repair status as a predictor of clinical benefit to immune checkpoint blockade with pembrolizumab.
Citation Format: Nicolas J. Llosa, Franck Housseau, Elizabeth Wick, Hechenbleikner Lizzy, Michael Cruise, Robert Anders, Cynthia Sears, Drew M. Pardoll, Hongni Fan, Nicholas Siegel, Lee Blosser, Ada Tam, Hao Wang. The vigorous immune microenvironment of microsatellite instable colon cancer isbalanced by multiple counter-inhibitory checkpoints. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR Inaugural International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference: Translating Science into Survival; September 16-19, 2015; New York, NY. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Immunol Res 2016;4(1 Suppl):Abstract nr A141.
- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.