KEAP1-driven co-mutations in lung adenocarcinoma unresponsive to immunotherapy despite high tumor mutational burden

Ann Oncol. 2020 Dec;31(12):1746-1754. doi: 10.1016/j.annonc.2020.08.2105. Epub 2020 Aug 28.


Background: Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) have demonstrated significant overall survival (OS) benefit in lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD). Nevertheless, a remarkable interpatient heterogeneity characterizes immunotherapy efficacy, regardless of programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression and tumor mutational burden (TMB). KEAP1 mutations are associated with shorter survival in LUAD patients receiving chemotherapy. We hypothesized that the pattern of KEAP1 co-mutations and mutual exclusivity may identify LUAD patients unresponsive to immunotherapy.

Patients and methods: KEAP1 mutational co-occurrences and somatic interactions were studied in the whole MSKCC LUAD dataset. The impact of coexisting alterations on survival outcomes in ICI-treated LUAD patients was verified in the randomized phase II/III POPLAR/OAK trials (blood-based sequencing, bNGS cohort, N = 253). Three tissue-based sequencing studies (Rome, MSKCC and DFCI) were used for independent validation (tNGS cohort, N = 289). Immunogenomic features were analyzed using The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) LUAD study.

Results: On the basis of KEAP1 mutational co-occurrences, we identified four genes potentially associated with reduced efficacy of immunotherapy (KEAP1, PBRM1, SMARCA4 and STK11). Independent of the nature of co-occurring alterations, tumors with coexisting mutations (CoMut) had inferior survival as compared with single-mutant (SM) and wild-type (WT) tumors (bNGS cohort: CoMut versus SM log-rank P = 0.048, CoMut versus WT log-rank P < 0.001; tNGS cohort: CoMut versus SM log-rank P = 0.037, CoMut versus WT log-rank P = 0.006). The CoMut subset harbored higher TMB than the WT disease and the adverse significance of coexisting alterations was maintained in LUAD with high TMB. Significant immunogenomic differences were observed between the CoMut and WT groups in terms of core immune signatures, T-cell receptor repertoire, T helper cell signatures and immunomodulatory genes.

Conclusions: This study indicates that coexisting alterations in a limited set of genes characterize a subset of LUAD unresponsive to immunotherapy and with high TMB. An immune-cold microenvironment may account for the clinical course of the disease.

Keywords: KEAP1 co-mutations; immunogenomic; immunotherapy; lung adenocarcinoma; tumor mutational burden.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung / genetics
  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung / therapy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung*
  • Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic
  • Clinical Trials, Phase III as Topic
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1 / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Mutation
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • KEAP1 protein, human
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2