Characterization of the T-Cell Receptor Repertoire and Immune Microenvironment in Patients with Locoregionally Advanced Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck

Clin Cancer Res. 2017 Aug 15;23(16):4897-4907. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-17-0103. Epub 2017 Apr 25.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / therapy
  • Chemoradiotherapy
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Papillomaviridae / physiology
  • Papillomavirus Infections / genetics
  • Papillomavirus Infections / therapy
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / genetics*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology


  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell