Late-differentiated effector neoantigen-specific CD8+ T cells are enriched in peripheral blood of non-small cell lung carcinoma patients responding to atezolizumab treatment

J Immunother Cancer. 2019 Sep 12;7(1):249. doi: 10.1186/s40425-019-0695-9.


Background: There is strong evidence that immunotherapy-mediated tumor rejection can be driven by tumor-specific CD8+ T cells reinvigorated to recognize neoantigens derived from tumor somatic mutations. Thus, the frequencies or characteristics of tumor-reactive, mutation-specific CD8+ T cells could be used as biomarkers of an anti-tumor response. However, such neoantigen-specific T cells are difficult to reliably identify due to their low frequency in peripheral blood and wide range of potential epitope specificities.

Methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from 14 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients were collected pre- and post-treatment with the anti-PD-L1 antibody atezolizumab. Using whole exome sequencing and RNA sequencing we identified tumor neoantigens that are predicted to bind to major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC-I) and utilized mass cytometry, together with cellular 'barcoding', to profile immune cells from patients with objective response to therapy (n = 8) and those with progressive disease (n = 6). In parallel, a highly-multiplexed combinatorial tetramer staining was used to screen antigen-specific CD8+ T cells in peripheral blood for 782 candidate tumor neoantigens and 71 known viral-derived control peptide epitopes across all patient samples.

Results: No significant treatment- or response associated phenotypic difference were measured in bulk CD8+ T cells. Multiplexed peptide-MHC multimer staining detected 20 different neoantigen-specific T cell populations, as well as T cells specific for viral control antigens. Not only were neoantigen-specific T cells more frequently detected in responding patients, their phenotypes were also almost entirely distinct. Neoantigen-specific T cells from responder patients typically showed a differentiated effector phenotype, most like Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and some types of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-specific CD8+ T cells. In contrast, more memory-like phenotypic profiles were observed for neoantigen-specific CD8+ T cells from patients with progressive disease.

Conclusion: This study demonstrates that neoantigen-specific T cells can be detected in peripheral blood in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients during anti-PD-L1 therapy. Patients with an objective response had an enrichment of neoantigen-reactive T cells and these cells showed a phenotype that differed from patients without a response. These findings suggest the ex vivo identification, characterization, and longitudinal follow-up of rare tumor-specific differentiated effector neoantigen-specific T cells may be useful in predicting response to checkpoint blockade.

Trial registration: POPLAR trial NCT01903993 .

Keywords: Atezolizumab; Immunotherapy; NSCLC; Tumor neoantigen-specific T cells.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use*
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / isolation & purification
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use*
  • B7-H1 Antigen / antagonists & inhibitors
  • B7-H1 Antigen / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / blood
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / immunology
  • Drug Monitoring / methods
  • Exome Sequencing
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / blood
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation
  • RNA-Seq


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • CD274 protein, human
  • atezolizumab

Associated data