Pointwise mutual information quantifies intratumor heterogeneity in tissue sections labeled with multiple fluorescent biomarkers

J Pathol Inform. 2016 Nov 29;7:47. doi: 10.4103/2153-3539.194839. eCollection 2016.


Background: Measures of spatial intratumor heterogeneity are potentially important diagnostic biomarkers for cancer progression, proliferation, and response to therapy. Spatial relationships among cells including cancer and stromal cells in the tumor microenvironment (TME) are key contributors to heterogeneity.

Methods: We demonstrate how to quantify spatial heterogeneity from immunofluorescence pathology samples, using a set of 3 basic breast cancer biomarkers as a test case. We learn a set of dominant biomarker intensity patterns and map the spatial distribution of the biomarker patterns with a network. We then describe the pairwise association statistics for each pattern within the network using pointwise mutual information (PMI) and visually represent heterogeneity with a two-dimensional map.

Results: We found a salient set of 8 biomarker patterns to describe cellular phenotypes from a tissue microarray cohort containing 4 different breast cancer subtypes. After computing PMI for each pair of biomarker patterns in each patient and tumor replicate, we visualize the interactions that contribute to the resulting association statistics. Then, we demonstrate the potential for using PMI as a diagnostic biomarker, by comparing PMI maps and heterogeneity scores from patients across the 4 different cancer subtypes. Estrogen receptor positive invasive lobular carcinoma patient, AL13-6, exhibited the highest heterogeneity score among those tested, while estrogen receptor negative invasive ductal carcinoma patient, AL13-14, exhibited the lowest heterogeneity score.

Conclusions: This paper presents an approach for describing intratumor heterogeneity, in a quantitative fashion (via PMI), which departs from the purely qualitative approaches currently used in the clinic. PMI is generalizable to highly multiplexed/hyperplexed immunofluorescence images, as well as spatial data from complementary in situ methods including FISSEQ and CyTOF, sampling many different components within the TME. We hypothesize that PMI will uncover key spatial interactions in the TME that contribute to disease proliferation and progression.

Keywords: Computational pathology; multiplexed immunofluorescence; pointwise mutual information; tumor heterogeneity; tumor microenvironment.