Background: Tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) are known to be associated with response to primary systemic therapy (PST) in breast cancer. This study was conducted to assess the association of TIL subsets with pathological complete response (pCR) after PST in breast cancer in relation to breast cancer subtype, breast cancer stem cell (BCSC) phenotype and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT).
Methods: The pre-chemotherapeutic biopsy specimens of 153 breast cancer patients who underwent surgical resection after anthracycline- or anthracycline/taxane-based PST were analysed. TIL subsets (CD4+, CD8+, and FOXP3+ TILs), BCSC phenotype, and the expression of EMT markers were evaluated by immunohistochemistry and were correlated with pCR after PST.
Results: Infiltration of CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes was closely correlated with BCSC phenotype and EMT. High levels of CD4+, CD8+, and FOXP3+ TILs were associated with pCR, and CD8+ TILs were found to be an independent predictive factor for pCR. In addition, CD8+ TILs were associated with pCR irrespective of breast cancer subtype, CD44+/CD24- phenotype, EMT, and chemotherapeutic regimen in subgroup analyses.
Conclusion: These findings indicate that CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes are a key component of TILs associated with chemo-response and can be used as a reliable predictor of response to anthracycline- or anthracycline/taxane-based PST in breast cancer.