Evidence from mouse chronic viral infection models suggests that CD8+ T cell subsets characterized by distinct expression levels of the receptor PD-1 diverge in their state of exhaustion and potential for reinvigoration by PD-1 blockade. However, it remains unknown whether T cells in human cancer adopt a similar spectrum of exhausted states based on PD-1 expression levels. We compared transcriptional, metabolic and functional signatures of intratumoral CD8+ T lymphocyte populations with high (PD-1T), intermediate (PD-1N) and no PD-1 expression (PD-1–) from non-small-cell lung cancer patients. PD-1T T cells showed a markedly different transcriptional and metabolic profile from PD-1N and PD-1– lymphocytes, as well as an intrinsically high capacity for tumor recognition. Furthermore, while PD-1T lymphocytes were impaired in classical effector cytokine production, they produced CXCL13, which mediates immune cell recruitment to tertiary lymphoid structures. Strikingly, the presence of PD-1T cells was strongly predictive for both response and survival in a small cohort of non-small-cell lung cancer patients treated with PD-1 blockade. The characterization of a distinct state of tumor-reactive, PD-1-bright lymphocytes in human cancer, which only partially resembles that seen in chronic infection, provides potential avenues for therapeutic intervention.
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We thank D. Labes and E. Traunecker for exemplary technical assistance with cell sorting, F. Franco and T. Chao for performing electron microscopy analysis, L. Tietze (Ortenau Klinikum, Germany) for contribution of tumor samples, B. Dolder-Schlienger for technical assistance, and F. Uhlenbrock and D. Pinschewer for discussions and critical reading of the manuscript. This work was supported by grants from the Swiss National Science Foundation (P300PB_164755 to D.S.T., 320030_162575 to A.Z. and 31003A_163204 to P.C.H.), the Research Funds University of Basel (D.S.T.), the Lichtenstein-Stiftung (D.S.T.), the FAG-Basel (D.S.T.), the Dutch Cancer Society Queen Wilhelmina Award NKI 2013-6122 (T.N.S.) and ERC grant SENSIT (T.N.S.).
A.R., A.K., C.K., V.K. are employed by Roche. A.Z. received research funding from Roche. Part of the work described in this manuscript is the subject of a patent application co-owned by NKI-AVL and the University of Basel. Based on NKI-AVL and the University of Basel policy on management of intellectual property, D.S.T., V.H.K., K.D.M., A.Z. and T.N.S. would be entitled to a portion of the royalty income received.
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Thommen, D.S., Koelzer, V.H., Herzig, P. et al. A transcriptionally and functionally distinct PD-1+ CD8+ T cell pool with predictive potential in non-small-cell lung cancer treated with PD-1 blockade. Nat Med 24, 994–1004 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-018-0057-z
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