Immune Responses Vary in Preinvasive Colorectal Lesions by Tumor Location and Histology

Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2021 Sep;14(9):885-892. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-20-0592. Epub 2021 Aug 2.


Immune responses vary in colorectal cancers, which strongly influence prognosis. However, little is known about the variance in immune response within preinvasive lesions. The study aims to investigate how the immune contexture differs by clinicopathologic features (location, histology, dysplasia) associated with progression and recurrence in early carcinogenesis. We performed a cross-sectional study using preinvasive lesions from the surgical pathology laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina. We stained the tissues with immunofluorescence antibodies, then scanned and analyzed expression using automated image analysis software. We stained CD117 as a marker of mast cells, CD4/RORC to indicate Th17 cells, MICA/B as a marker of NK-cell ligands, and also used antibodies directed against cytokines IL6, IL17A, and IFNγ. We used negative binomial regression analysis to compare analyte density counts by location, histology, degree of dysplasia adjusted for age, sex, race, and batch. All immune markers studied (except IL17a) had significantly higher density counts in the proximal colon than distal colon and rectum. Increases in villous histology were associated with significant decreases in immune responses for IL6, IL17a, NK ligand, and mast cells. No differences were observed in lesions with low- and high-grade dysplasia, except in mast cells. The lesions of the proximal colon were rich in immune infiltrate, paralleling the responses observed in normal mucosa and invasive disease. The diminishing immune response with increasing villous histology suggests an immunologically suppressive tumor environment. Our findings highlight the heterogeneity of the immune responses in preinvasive lesions, which may have implications for prevention strategies. PREVENTION RELEVANCE: Our study is focused on immune infiltrate expression in preinvasive colorectal lesions; our results suggest important differences by clinicopathologic features that have implications for immune prevention research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / diagnosis
  • Adenoma / immunology
  • Adenoma / metabolism
  • Adenoma / pathology*
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Colon / immunology
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Colon / pathology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity / physiology*
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology


  • Biomarkers, Tumor