Prognosis of metastatic melanoma improved with the development of checkpoint inhibitors. The role of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in lymph node metastases of stage III melanoma remains unclear. We retrospectively characterized TILs in primary melanomas and matched lymph node metastases (stage III melanoma) of patients treated with the checkpoint inhibitor ipilimumab. Tumor infiltrating lymphocytes were characterized for CD3, CD4, and CD8 expressions by immunohistochemistry. 4/9 patients (44%) responded to treatment with ipilimumab (1 complete and 2 partial remissions, 1 stable disease). All responders exhibited CD4 and CD8 T-cell infiltration in their lymph node metastases, whereas all non-responders did not show an infiltration of the lymph node metastasis with TILs. The correlation between the presence and absence of TILs in responders vs. non-responders was statistically significant (p = 0.008). Median distant metastases free survival, i.e., progression from stage III to stage IV melanoma, was similar in responders and non-responders (22.1 vs. 19.3 months; p = 0.462). Median progression free and overall survival show a trend in favor of the patients having TIL rich lymph node metastases (6.8 vs. 3.3 months, p = 0.09; and all alive at last follow-up vs. 8.2 months, respectively, p = 0.08). Our data suggest a correlation between the T-cell infiltration of the lymph node metastases in stage III melanoma and the response to ipilimumab once these patients progress to stage IV disease.
Keywords: Immunotherapy; Ipilimumab; Melanoma; Tumor infiltrating lymphocytes.