Cancer Cell-Specific Major Histocompatibility Complex II Expression as a Determinant of the Immune Infiltrate Organization and Function in the NSCLC Tumor Microenvironment

J Thorac Oncol. 2021 Oct;16(10):1694-1704. doi: 10.1016/j.jtho.2021.05.004. Epub 2021 May 25.


Introduction: In patients with NSCLC, the prognostic significance of the tumor microenvironment (TME) immune composition has been revealed using single- or dual-marker staining on sequential tissue sections. Although these studies reveal that relative abundance and localization of immune cells are important parameters, deeper analyses of the NSCLC TME are necessary to refine the potential application of these findings to clinical care. Currently, the complex spatial relationships between cells of the NSCLC TME and potential drivers contributing to its immunologic composition remain unknown.

Methods: We used multispectral quantitative imaging on the lung adenocarcinoma TME in 153 patients with resected tumors. On a single slide per patient, we evaluated the TME with markers for CD3, CD8, CD14, CD19, major histocompatibility complex II (MHCII), cytokeratin, and 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI). Image analysis, including tissue segmentation, phenotyping, and spatial localization, was performed.

Results: Specimens wherein greater than or equal to 5% of lung cancer cells expressed MHCII (MHCIIhi TME) had increased levels of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells and CD14+ cell infiltration. In the MHCIIhi TME, the immune infiltrate was closer to cancer cells and expressed an activated phenotype. Morphologic image analysis revealed cancer cells in the MHCIIhi TME more frequently interfaced with CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. Patients with an MHCIIhi TME experienced improved overall survival (p = 0.046).

Conclusions: Lung cancer cell-specific expression of MHCII associates with levels of immune cell infiltration, spatial localization, and activation status within the TME. This suggests that cancer cell-specific expression of MHCII may represent a biomarker for the immune system's recognition and activation against the tumor.

Keywords: Cancer cell-specific MHCII expression; MHCII; Multispectral tissue imaging; NSCLC; Tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex
  • Tumor Microenvironment