Jan 2013 Cancer research

PD-1-expressing tumor-infiltrating T cells are a favorable prognostic biomarker in HPV-associated head and neck cancer.


Badoual C, Hans S, Merillon N, Van Ryswick C, Ravel P, Benhamouda N, Levionnois E, Nizard M, Si-Mohamed A, Besnier N, Gey A, Rotem-Yehudar R, Pere H, Tran T, Guerin CL, Chauvat A, Dransart E, Alanio C, Albert S, Barry B, Sandoval F, Quintin-Colonna F, Bruneval P, Fridman WH, Lemoine FM, Oudard S, Johannes L, Olive D, Brasnu D, Tartour E


Head and neck cancers positive for human papillomavirus (HPV) have a more favorable clinical outcome than HPV-negative cancers, but it is unknown why this is the case. We hypothesized that prognosis was affected by intrinsic features of HPV-infected tumor cells or differences in host immune response. In this study, we focused on a comparison of regulatory Foxp3(+) T cells and programmed death-1 (PD-1)(+) T cells in the microenvironment of tumors that were positive or negative for HPV, in two groups that were matched for various clinical and biologic parameters. HPV-positive head and neck cancers were more heavily infiltrated by regulatory T cells and PD-1(+) T cells and the levels of PD-1(+) cells were positively correlated with a favorable clinical outcome. In explaining this paradoxical result, we showed that these PD-1(+) T cells expressed activation markers and were functional after blockade of the PD-1-PD-L1 axis in vitro. Approximately 50% of PD-1(+) tumor-infiltrating T cells lacked Tim-3 expression and may indeed represent activated T cells. In mice, administration of a cancer vaccine increased PD-1 on T cells with concomitant tumor regression. In this setting, PD-1 blockade synergized with vaccine in eliciting antitumor efficacy. Our findings prompt a need to revisit the significance of PD-1-infiltrating T cells in cancer, where we suggest that PD-1 detection may reflect a previous immune response against tumors that might be reactivated by PD-1/PD-L1 blockade.

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