Immune profiles in primary squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck

Oral Oncol. 2019 Sep:96:77-88. doi: 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2019.06.032. Epub 2019 Jul 12.


Objectives: In this study we describe the tumor microenvironment, the signaling pathways and genetic alterations associated with the presence or absence of CD8+ T-cell infiltration in primary squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) tumors.

Materials and methods: Two SCCHN multi-analyte cohorts were utilized, the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and the Chicago Head and Neck Genomics (CHGC) cohort. A well-established chemokine signature classified SCCHN tumors into high and low CD8+ T-cell inflamed phenotypes (TCIP-H, TCIP-L respectively). Gene set enrichment and iPANDA analyses were conducted to dissect differences in signaling pathways, somatic mutations and copy number aberrations for TCIP-H versus TCIP-L tumors, stratified by HPV status.

Results: TCIP-H SCCHN tumors were enriched in multiple immune checkpoints irrespective of HPV-status. HPV-positive tumors were enriched in markers of T-regulatory cells (Tregs) and HPV-negative tumors in protumorigenic M2 macrophages. TCIP-L SCCHN tumors were enriched for the β-catenin/WNT and Hedgehog signaling pathways, had frequent mutations in NSD1, amplifications in EGFR and YAP1, as well as CDKN2A deletions. TCIP-H SCCHN tumors were associated with the MAPK/ERK, JAK/STAT and mTOR/AKT signaling pathways, and were enriched in CASP8, EP300, EPHA2, HRAS mutations, CD274, PDCD1LG2, JAK2 amplifications.

Conclusions: Our findings support that combinatorial immune checkpoint blockade and depletion strategies targeting Tregs in HPV-positive and M2 macrophages in HPV-negative tumors may lead to improved antitumor immune responses in patients with TCIP-H SCCHN. We highlight novel pathways and genetic events that may serve as candidate biomarkers and novel targeted therapies to enhance the efficacy of immunotherapy in SCCHN patients.

Keywords: Head and neck cancer; Immune checkpoints; T-cell inflamed phenotype.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / immunology*
  • Tumor Microenvironment