Activation of T helper cells in sentinel node predicts poor prognosis in oral squamous cell carcinoma

Sci Rep. 2020 Dec 18;10(1):22352. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-79273-3.


Recurrence in oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) significantly reduces overall survival. Improved understanding of the host's immune status in head and neck cancer may facilitate identification of patients at higher risk of recurrence and improve patients' selection for ongoing clinical trials assessing the effectiveness of immune checkpoint inhibitors (CPI). We aimed to investigate Sentinel Node-derived T-cells and their impact on survival. We enrolled prospectively 28 OSCC patients treated at Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden with primary tumour excision and elective neck dissection. On top of the standard treatment, the enrolled patients underwent sentinel node procedure. T cells derived from Sentinel nodes, non-sentinel nodes, primary tumour and PBMC were analyzed in flow cytometry. Patients who developed recurrence proved to have significantly lower level of CD4+ CD69+ in their sentinel node (31.38 ± 6.019% vs. 43.44 ± 15.33%, p = 0.0103) and significantly higher level of CD8+ CD HLA-DR+ (38.95 ± 9.479% vs. 24.58 ± 11.36%, p = 0.0116) compared to disease-free individuals. Survival analysis of studied population revealed that patients with low proportion of CD4+ CD69+ had significantly decreased disease-free survival (DFS) of 19.7 months (95% CI 12.6-26.9) compared with 42.6 months (95% CI 40.1-45.1) in those with high CD4+ CD69+ proportion in their Sentinel Nodes (log-rank test, p = 0.033). Our findings demonstrate that characterization of T-cell activation in Sentinel Node serves as a complementary prognostic marker. Flow cytometry of Sentinel Node may be useful in both patients' surveillance and selection for ongoing CPI clinical trials in head and neck cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Lymphadenopathy
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / immunology*
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis*
  • Sentinel Lymph Node / immunology*
  • Sentinel Lymph Node / pathology
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / immunology*
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / pathology
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / surgery
  • Sweden
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology