Despite intensive treatment, including consolidation immunotherapy (IT), prognosis of high-risk neuroblastoma (HR-NBL) is poor. Immune status of patients over the course of treatment, and thus immunological features potentially explaining therapy efficacy, are largely unknown. In this study, the dynamics of immune cell subsets and their function were explored in 25 HR-NBL patients at diagnosis, during induction chemotherapy, before high-dose chemotherapy, and during IT. The dynamics of immune cells varied largely between patients. IL-2- and GM-CSF-containing IT cycles resulted in significant expansion of effector cells (NK-cells in IL-2 cycles, neutrophils and monocytes in GM-CSF cycles). Nonetheless, the cytotoxic phenotype of NK-cells was majorly disturbed at the start of IT, and both IL-2 and GM-CSF IT cycles induced preferential expansion of suppressive regulatory T-cells. Interestingly, proliferative capacity of purified patient T-cells was impaired at diagnosis as well as during therapy. This study indicates the presence of both immune-enhancing as well as regulatory responses in HR-NBL patients during (immuno)therapy. Especially the double-edged effects observed in IL-2-containing IT cycles are interesting, as this potentially explains the absence of clinical benefit of IL-2 addition to IT cycles. This suggests that there is a need to combine anti-GD2 with more specific immune-enhancing strategies to improve IT outcome in HR-NBL.
Keywords: ASCT; GM-CSF; IL-2; anti-GD2; dinutuximab; immune monitoring; immunotherapy; neuroblastoma.