Purpose: To characterize the role of B cells on human papilloma virus (HPV)-associated cancer patient outcomes and determine the effects of radiation and PD-1 blockade on B-cell populations.
Experimental design: Tumor RNA-sequencing data from over 800 patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and cervical cancer, including a prospective validation cohort, was analyzed to study the impact of B-cell gene expression on overall survival (OS). A novel murine model of HPV+ HNSCC was used to study the effects of PD-1 blockade and radiotherapy on B-cell activation, differentiation, and clonality including analysis by single-cell RNA-sequencing and B-cell receptor (BCR)-sequencing. Human protein microarray was then used to quantify B-cell-mediated IgG and IgM antibodies to over 16,000 proteins in the serum of patients treated on a clinical trial with PD-1 blockade.
Results: RNA-sequencing identified CD19 and IGJ as novel B-cell prognostic biomarkers for 3-year OS (HR, 0.545; P < 0.001). PD-1 blockade and radiotherapy enhance development of memory B cells, plasma cells, and antigen-specific B cells. BCR-sequencing found that radiotherapy enhances B-cell clonality, decreases CDR3 length, and induces B-cell somatic hypermutation. Single-cell RNA-sequencing identified dramatic increases in B-cell germinal center formation after PD-1 blockade and radiotherapy. Human proteome array revealed enhanced IgG and IgM antibody responses in patients who derived clinical benefit but not those with progressive disease after treatment with PD-1 blockade.
Conclusions: These findings establish a key role for B cells in patient outcomes and responses to PD-1 blockade in HPV-associated squamous cell carcinomas and demonstrate the need for additional diagnostics and therapeutics targeting B cells.
©2020 American Association for Cancer Research.