Immune Cell Gene Signatures for Profiling the Microenvironment of Solid Tumors

Cancer Immunol Res. 2018 Nov;6(11):1388-1400. doi: 10.1158/2326-6066.CIR-18-0342. Epub 2018 Sep 28.


The immune composition of the tumor microenvironment regulates processes including angiogenesis, metastasis, and the response to drugs or immunotherapy. To facilitate the characterization of the immune component of tumors from transcriptomics data, a number of immune cell transcriptome signatures have been reported that are made up of lists of marker genes indicative of the presence a given immune cell population. The majority of these gene signatures have been defined through analysis of isolated blood cells. However, blood cells do not reflect the differentiation or activation state of similar cells within tissues, including tumors, and consequently markers derived from blood cells do not necessarily transfer well to tissues. To address this issue, we generated a set of immune gene signatures derived directly from tissue transcriptomics data using a network-based deconvolution approach. We define markers for seven immune cell types, collectively named ImSig, and demonstrate how these markers can be used for the quantitative estimation of the immune cell content of tumor and nontumor tissue samples. The utility of ImSig is demonstrated through the stratification of melanoma patients into subgroups of prognostic significance and the identification of immune cells with the use of single-cell RNA-sequencing data derived from tumors. Use of ImSig is facilitated by an R package (imsig). Cancer Immunol Res; 6(11); 1388-400. ©2018 AACR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / immunology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / genetics
  • Melanoma / immunology
  • Melanoma / mortality
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods
  • Trachoma / genetics
  • Transcriptome
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor