Single-cell analyses of renal cell cancers reveal insights into tumor microenvironment, cell of origin, and therapy response

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Jun 15;118(24):e2103240118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2103240118.


Diverse subtypes of renal cell carcinomas (RCCs) display a wide spectrum of histomorphologies, proteogenomic alterations, immune cell infiltration patterns, and clinical behavior. Delineating the cells of origin for different RCC subtypes will provide mechanistic insights into their diverse pathobiology. Here, we employed single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) to develop benign and malignant renal cell atlases. Using a random forest model trained on this cell atlas, we predicted the putative cell of origin for more than 10 RCC subtypes. scRNA-seq also revealed several attributes of the tumor microenvironment in the most common subtype of kidney cancer, clear cell RCC (ccRCC). We elucidated an active role for tumor epithelia in promoting immune cell infiltration, potentially explaining why ccRCC responds to immune checkpoint inhibitors, despite having a low neoantigen burden. In addition, we characterized an association between high endothelial cell types and lack of response to immunotherapy in ccRCC. Taken together, these single-cell analyses of benign kidney and RCC provide insight into the putative cell of origin for RCC subtypes and highlight the important role of the tumor microenvironment in influencing ccRCC biology and response to therapy.

Keywords: cell of origin; clear cell renal cell carcinoma; renal cell carcinoma; single-cell RNA sequencing; tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / therapy*
  • Cell Survival
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Kidney Neoplasms / immunology
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Kidney Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology
  • Myeloid Cells / pathology
  • Single-Cell Analysis*
  • Treatment Outcome