Purpose: Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) is a lethal cancer with a suboptimal 5-year overall survival of approximately 50% with surgery and/or definitive chemoradiotherapy. Novel treatments are thus urgently awaited. Immunotherapy with checkpoint blockade has emerged as a promising option for patients with recurrent/metastatic SCCHN; however, it has not been investigated in the curative-intent setting yet. The purpose of this study was to investigate the T-cell receptor repertoire and the tumor microenvironment in tumor tissues of SCCHN patients with locoregionally advanced disease.Experimental Design: We performed T-cell receptor sequencing of tumor tissues from 44 patients with locoregionally advanced SCCHN prior to treatment with definitive chemoradiotherapy and correlated the T-cell clonality and the mRNA expression levels of immune-related genes with clinicopathologic parameters.Results: Clonal expansion of T cells was significantly higher in human papilloma virus (HPV)-negative compared with HPV-positive tumors, signifying more robust antigen presentation in HPV-negative tumors. The latter was supported by the higher percentage of HPV-negative tumors expressing HLA-A protein compared with HPV-positive tumors (P = 0.049). Higher GRZB levels correlated significantly with longer recurrence-free survival (log-rank, P = 0.003) independent of tumor size, nodal stage, and HPV status.Conclusions: Our findings support clonal expansion of T cells in SCCHN patients with locoregionally advanced disease and imply differences in the antigen presentation capacity between HPV-negative and HPV-positive tumors. Elevated GRZB mRNA levels may also serve as a favorable and independent predictor of outcome in SCCHN patients treated with chemoradiotherapy. These data provide rationale for the introduction of immunotherapeutic approaches in the curative-intent setting. Clin Cancer Res; 23(16); 4897-907. ©2017 AACR.
©2017 American Association for Cancer Research.