Clonality and antigen-specific responses shape the prognostic effects of tumor-infiltrating T cells in ovarian cancer

Oncotarget. 2020 Jul 7;11(27):2669-2683. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.27666.


CD8+ tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) are not all specific for tumor antigens, but can include bystander TILs that are specific for cancer-irrelevant epitopes, and it is unknown whether the T-cell repertoire affects prognosis. To delineate the complexity of anti-tumor T-cell responses, we utilized a computational method for de novo assembly of sequences from CDR3 regions of 369 high-grade serous ovarian cancers from TCGA, and then applied deep TCR-sequencing for analyses of paired tumor and peripheral blood specimens from an independent cohort of 99 ovarian cancer patients. Strongly monoclonal T-cell repertoires were associated with favorable prognosis (PFS, HR = 0.65, 0.50-0.84, p = 0.003; OS, HR = 0.61, 0.44-0.83, p = 0.006) in TCGA cohort. In the validation cohort, we discovered that patients with low T-cell infiltration but low diversity or focused repertoires had clinical outcomes almost indistinguishable from highly-infiltrated tumors (median 21.0 months versus 15.9 months, log-rank p = 0.945). We also found that the degree of divergence of the peripheral repertoire from the TIL repertoire, and the presence of detectable spontaneous anti-tumor immune responses are important determinants of clinical outcome. We conclude that the prognostic significance of TILs in ovarian cancer is dictated by T-cell clonality, degree of overlap with peripheral repertoire, and the presence of detectable spontaneous anti-tumor immune response in the patients. These immunological phenotypes defined by the TCR repertoire may provide useful insights for identifying "TIL-low" ovarian cancer patients that may respond to immunotherapy.

Keywords: T-cell repertoire; ovarian cancer; tumor immunity.