T cell infiltration into colorectal tumors has been shown to correlate with improved patient outcomes. However, more detailed information on the makeup and relationships between the infiltrating T cell subsets is lacking. We therefore correlated the extent of immune infiltration into colorectal tumors with the frequencies of various T cell subsets. We prospectively recruited 22 patients at the time of surgical resection for colorectal cancer. The Klintrup-Mäkinen (KM) score was used to estimate the extent of immune infiltration into colorectal tumors. The frequencies of CD4 and CD8 T cells that produced cytokines or expressed the inhibitory molecule programed cell death 1 (PD-1) were determined by flow cytometry in colorectal tumor and matched uninvolved colonic tissue. In addition, the frequency of CD4 regulatory T cell (Treg) subsets was determined. An increased frequency of CD4 T cells producing IL-17 (Th17 cells) was observed in colorectal tumor tissue compared with adjacent uninvolved tissue. These Th17 cells mostly coproduced TNF-α, but not IFN-γ. IL-17 expression correlated positively with TNF-α and IL-10. Increased expression of the immune checkpoint molecule PD-1 was found in colorectal tumors compared with adjacent uninvolved tissue. There was a negative correlation between expression of PD-1 and IFN-γ, but not IL-17, for both CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells. CD4(+)CD25(+)CD127(lo) and CD4(+)CD25(+)CD127(lo)FoxP3(+)CD39(+) Treg cells were enriched in colorectal tumors. A positive correlation between KM score and percentage CD4(+)CD25(+)CD127(lo) Treg cells was observed in tumors, suggesting that increased immune infiltration is associated with an increased proportion of Treg cells. In addition, there was a negative correlation between the frequency of CD4(+)CD25(+)CD127(lo) Treg cells and the expression of IFN-γ and IL-2, but not IL-17, in tumors. Taken together, these data suggest that both PD-1 expressing T cells and Treg cells within the tumor may have a suppressive effect on T cells secreting IFN-γ, IL-2, or TNF-α, but not Th17 cells.
Keywords: PD-1; T cells; Th17 cells; colorectal cancer; immunophenotyping; immunotherapy; regulatory T cells.