Given the growing interest and promising preliminary results of immunotherapy in malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), it has become important to more fully understand the immune landscape in this tumor. This may be especially relevant in deciding who might benefit most from checkpoint blockade or agonist antibody therapy. Since the phenotype of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in MPM has not been fully described and their function has not been carefully assessed, we collected fresh tumor and blood from 22 patients undergoing surgical resection and analysed single cell suspensions by flow cytometry. The functionality of TILs was assessed by measurement of cytokine expression (IFN-γ) following overnight stimulation ex vivo. Results showed low numbers of CD8+ TILs whose function was either moderately or severely suppressed. The degree of TIL hypofunction did not correlate with the presence of co-existing macrophages or neutrophils, nor with expression of the inhibitory receptors PD-1, CD39 and CTLA-4. Hypofunction was associated with higher numbers of CD4 regulatory T cells (Tregs) and with expression of the inhibitory receptor TIGIT. On the other hand, presence of tissue-resident memory (Trm) cells and expression of TIM-3 on CD8+ cells were positively associated with cytokine production. However, Trm function was partially suppressed when the transcription factor Eomesodermin (Eomes) was co-expressed. Understanding the function of TILs in malignant mesothelioma may have clinical implications for immunotherapy, especially in choosing the best immunotherapy targets. Our data suggests that Treg cell blocking agents or TIGIT inhibitor antibodies might be especially valuable in these patients.
Keywords: CD8+ TILs; Eomes; Mesothelioma; hypofunction; inhibitory receptors; tissue resident memory cells.