Expression of the transcription factor FOXP3 characterizes regulatory T cells (Tregs) that engage in the maintenance of immunological self-tolerance and immune homeostasis. Intra-tumoral accumulation of Tregs is associated with unfavorable prognosis in several kinds of cancers. Recently, expression of FOXP3 and its association with prognosis have also been shown in some cancer cells in clinical studies. For non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), however, prognostic significance of tumor FOXP3 expression and its relationship with Tregs remain unknown. FOXP3 expression in cancer cells and tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes was examined by immunohistochemical staining of surgical specimens from 87 patients with NSCLC. Prognostic values of the tumor-infiltrating Treg count and tumor FOXP3 expression status were evaluated retrospectively. FOXP3-positive cancer cells were observed in 27 of 87 (31.0%) patients. There was no significant relationship between Treg count and tumor FOXP3 status. Increased Treg counts were associated with worse overall and relapse-free survival whereas the influence of tumor FOXP3 status on survival was not significant. However, when FOXP3-positive cancer cells were present, the relationship between Treg accumulation and worse prognosis was attenuated. In contrast, patients without tumor FOXP3 expression and high Treg count had significantly worse overall and relapse-free survival (hazard ratio: 3.118 and 3.325, p=0.028 and 0.024, respectively) than other groups. These results suggest that tumor FOXP3 expression has a better prognostic potential in NSCLC and that in combination with tumor-infiltrating Treg count the absence of tumor FOXP3 allows the selection of high-risk patients.
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