Background: In melanoma patients, microscopic tumor in the sentinel lymph-node biopsy (SLN) increases the risk of distant metastases, but the transition from tumor in the SLN to metastatic disease remains poorly understood.
Methods: Fluorescent staining for CD3, CD20, CD11c, and DNA was performed on SLN tissue and matching primary tumors. Regions of interest (ROI) were then chosen geometrically (e.g., tumor) or by fluorescent cell subset markers (e.g., CD11c). Each ROI was further analyzed using NanoString Digital Spatial Profiling high-resolution multiplex profiling. Digital counts for 59-panel immune-related proteins were collected and normalized to account for system variation and ROI area.
Results: Tumor regions of SLNs had variable infiltration of CD3 cells among patients. The patient with overall survival (OS) > 8 years had the most CD11c- and CD3-expressing cells infiltrating the SLN tumor region. All patients had CD11c (dendritic cell, DC) infiltration into the SLN tumor region. Selecting ROI by specific cell subtype, we compared protein expression of CD11c cells between tumor and non-tumor/normal tissue SLN regions. Known markers of DC activation such as CD86, HLA-DR, and OX40L were lowest on CD11c cells within SLN tumor for the patient with OS < 1 year and highest on the patient with OS > 8 years.
Conclusion: We demonstrate the feasibility of profiling the protein expression of CD11c cells within the SLN tumor. Identifying early regulators of melanoma control when the disease is microscopically detected in the SLN is beneficial and requires follow-up studies in a larger cohort of patients.
Keywords: Melanoma; Tumor draining lymp nodes.