Immunotherapy-Mediated Thyroid Dysfunction: Genetic Risk and Impact on Outcomes with PD-1 Blockade in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Clin Cancer Res. 2021 Sep 15;27(18):5131-5140. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-21-0921. Epub 2021 Jul 8.


Purpose: Genetic differences in immunity may contribute to toxicity and outcomes with immune checkpoint inhibitor (CPI) therapy, but these relationships are poorly understood. We examined the genetics of thyroid immune-related adverse events (irAE).

Experimental design: In patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) treated with CPIs at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) and Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), we evaluated thyroid irAEs. We typed germline DNA using genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) arrays and imputed genotypes. Germline SNP imputation was also performed in an independent Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) cohort. We developed and validated polygenic risk scores (PRS) for hypothyroidism in noncancer patients using the UK and VUMC BioVU biobanks. These PRSs were applied to thyroid irAEs and CPI response in patients with NSCLC at MSK, VUMC, and DFCI.

Results: Among 744 patients at MSK and VUMC, thyroid irAEs occurred in 13% and were associated with improved outcomes [progression-free survival adjusted HR (PFS aHR) = 0.68; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.52-0.88]. The PRS for hypothyroidism developed from UK Biobank predicted hypothyroidism in the BioVU dataset in noncancer patients [OR per standard deviation (SD) = 1.33, 95% CI, 1.29-1.37; AUROC = 0.6]. The same PRS also predicted development of thyroid irAEs in both independent cohorts of patients treated with CPIs (HR per SD = 1.34; 95% CI, 1.08-1.66; AUROC = 0.6). The results were similar in the DFCI cohort. However, PRS for hypothyroidism did not predict CPI benefit.

Conclusions: Thyroid irAEs were associated with response to anti-PD-1 therapy. Genetic risk for hypothyroidism was associated with risk of developing thyroid irAEs. Additional studies are needed to determine whether other irAEs also have shared genetic risk with known autoimmune disorders and the association with treatment response.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Immunotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Thyroid Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Thyroid Diseases / genetics*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors