Deviations of the immune cell landscape between healthy liver and hepatocellular carcinoma

Sci Rep. 2018 Apr 18;8(1):6220. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-24437-5.


Tumor-infiltrating immune cells are highly relevant for prognosis and identification of immunotherapy targets in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The recently developed CIBERSORT method allows immune cell profiling by deconvolution of gene expression microarray data. By applying CIBERSORT, we assessed the relative proportions of immune cells in 41 healthy human livers, 305 HCC samples and 82 HCC adjacent tissues. The obtained immune cell profiles provided enumeration and activation status of 22 immune cell subtypes. Mast cells were evaluated by immunohistochemistry in ten HCC patients. Activated mast cells, monocytes and plasma cells were decreased in HCC, while resting mast cells, total and naïve B cells, CD4+ memory resting and CD8+ T cells were increased when compared to healthy livers. Previously described S1, S2 and S3 molecular HCC subclasses demonstrated increased M1-polarized macrophages in the S3 subclass with good prognosis. Strong total immune cell infiltration into HCC correlated with total B cells, memory B cells, T follicular helper cells and M1 macrophages, whereas weak infiltration was linked to resting NK cells, neutrophils and resting mast cells. Immunohistochemical analysis of patient samples confirmed the reduced frequency of mast cells in human HCC tumor tissue as compared to tumor adjacent tissue. Our data demonstrate that deconvolution of gene expression data by CIBERSORT provides valuable information about immune cell composition of HCC patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cellular Microenvironment / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Liver / cytology
  • Liver / immunology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / pathology
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / pathology
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology*