Multiplexed single-cell pathology reveals the association of CD8 T-cell heterogeneity with prognostic outcomes in renal cell carcinoma

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2021 Oct;70(10):3001-3013. doi: 10.1007/s00262-021-03006-2. Epub 2021 Jul 14.


Despite the high sensitivity of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) to immunotherapy, RCC has been recognized as an unusual disease in which CD8+ T-cell infiltration into the tumor beds is related to a poor prognosis. To approach the inner landscape of immunobiology of RCC, we performed multiplexed seven-color immunohistochemistry (CD8, CD39, PD-1, Foxp3, PD-L1, and pan-cytokeratin AE1/AE3 with DAPI), which revealed the automated single-cell counts and calculations of individual cell-to-cell distances. In total, 186 subjects were included, in which CD39 was used as a marker for distinguishing tumor-specific (CD39+) and bystander (CD39-) T-cells. Our clear cell RCC cohort also revealed a poor prognosis if the tumor showed increased CD8+ T-cell infiltration. Intratumoral CD8+CD39+ T-cells as well as their exhausted CD8+CD39+PD-1+ T-cells in the central tumor areas enabled the subgrouping of patients according to malignancy. Analysis using specimens post-antiangiogenic treatment revealed a dramatic increase in proliferative Treg fraction Foxp3+PD-1+ cells, suggesting a potential mechanism of hyperprogressive disease after uses of anti-PD-1 antibody. Our cell-by-cell study platform provided spatial information on tumors, where bystander CD8+CD39- T-cells were dominant in the invasive margin areas. We uncovered a potential interaction between CD8+CD39+PD-1+ T-cells and Foxp3+PD-1+ Treg cells due to cell-to-cell proximity, forming a spatial niche more specialized in immunosuppression under PD-1 blockade. A paradigm shift to the immunosuppressive environment was more obvious in metastatic lesions; rather the infiltration of Foxp3+ and Foxp3+PD-1+ Treg cells was more pronounced. With this multiplexed single-cell pathology technique, we revealed further insight into the immunobiological standing of RCC.

Keywords: CD39; CD8; Heterogeneity; Kidney; PD-1; Renal cell carcinoma; Single cell.