Correlation of plasma exosomal microRNAs with the efficacy of immunotherapy in EGFR / ALK wild-type advanced non-small cell lung cancer

J Immunother Cancer. 2020 Jan;8(1):e000376. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2019-000376.


Background: Immunotherapy has become an important treatment option for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). At present, none of these existing biomarkers can effectively stratify true responders and there is an urgent need for identifying novel biomarkers. Exosomes derived from the serum of patients with cancer have been proven to be reliable markers for cancer diagnosis. Here, we explored the possibility of using plasma-derived exosomal microRNAs as potential biomarkers for optimal selection of patients with advanced EGFR / ALK negative NSCLC to immunotherapy.

Methods: From June 2017 to February 2019, 30 patients with advanced EGFR / ALK wild-type (WT) NSCLC who received PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors were enrolled. The efficacy evaluation was conducted after every three cycles of treatment according to RECIST 1.1. Plasma samples of these patients were collected before the administration of PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors as baseline, and after every three cycles if the patients achieved partial response (PR) or complete response. Plasma from seven healthy individuals was also collected as normal control. Exosomes were prepared by ultracentrifugation followed by total RNA extraction, and exosome-derived miRNAs were profiled using small RNA next-generation sequencing followed by differential expression analysis.

Results: In order to identify biomarker for better response, all five patients who achieved PR and four patients with progressive disease (PD) at efficacy evaluation were included for differential expression analysis. Based on unsupervised hierarchical clustering, exosomal miRNA expression profile was significantly altered in patients with NSCLC compared with normal controls with a total of 155 differentially expressed exosomal miRNAs. Interestingly, hsa-miR-320d, hsa-miR-320c, and hsa-miR-320b were identified significantly upregulated in the PD groups compared with the PR group at baseline before the treatment. In addition, we identified that hsa-miR-125b-5p, a T-cell suppressor, showed a trend of increased expression in the PD group at baseline and was significantly downregulated in the post-treatment plasma exosomes compared with pre-treatment samples of the PR patients.

Conclusion: Patients with NSCLC represent unique plasma exosomal miRNA profiles. Hsa-miR-320d, hsa-miR-320c, and hsa-miR-320b were identified as potential biomarkers for predicting the efficacy of immunotherapy in advanced NSCLCs. When T-cell suppressor hsa-miR-125b-5p was downregulated during the treatment, the patients may obtain increased T-cell function and respond well to immunotherapy.

Keywords: immunology; tumours.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase / genetics
  • B7-H1 Antigen / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / blood
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids / blood*
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids / metabolism
  • Drug Monitoring / methods
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • Exosomes / metabolism
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Lung Neoplasms / blood
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / blood*
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / antagonists & inhibitors


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CD274 protein, human
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • MIRN125 microRNA, human
  • MIRN320 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • PDCD1 protein, human
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor
  • ALK protein, human
  • Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors