Background & aims: Regulatory T cells (Tregs) express the forkhead box transcription factor (FoxP3) and suppress the antitumor immune response. We investigated whether the intratumoral densities of FoxP3(+) and effector CD3(+) lymphocytes are associated with prognosis of patients with colon cancer.
Methods: FoxP3 and CD3 expression and location were determined in stage II and III colon carcinomas (n = 160) and normal mucosa (n = 25) by immunohistochemistry; CD4 and FoxP3 were localized by dual immunofluorescence microscopy. T-cell markers were compared with pathological variables, DNA mismatch repair status, and patient survival using Cox proportional hazards models.
Results: FoxP3(+) and CD3(+) T-cell densities were increased in carcinomas compared with autologous normal mucosa (P < .0001). An increase in intraepithelial FoxP3(+) cells was associated with poor tumor differentiation (P = .038), female sex (P = .028), and advanced patient age (P = .042). FoxP3(+) cell density was not prognostic, yet patients with tumors with reduced intraepithelial CD3(+) T-cell densities had reduced disease-free survival (DFS) rates (hazard ratio [HR], 1.87 [95% confidence interval, 1.10-3.16]; P = .018). A low intraepithelial CD3(+)/FoxP3(+) cell ratio predicted reduced DFS (46.2% vs 66.7% survival at 5 years; HR, 2.17 [95% confidence interval, 1.11-4.23]; P = .0205). The prognostic impact of these markers was maintained when tumors were stratified by mismatch repair status. By multivariate analysis, a low CD3(+)/FoxP3(+) cell ratio (P= .0318) and low numbers of CD3(+) T cells (P = .0397) predicted shorter DFS times and were stronger prognostic variables than tumor stage or number of lymph node metastases.
Conclusions: A low intraepithelial CD3(+)/FoxP3(+) cell ratio and reduced numbers of CD3(+) T cells were associated with shorter patient survival time, indicating the importance of an effector to Treg cell ratio in colon cancer prognosis.