Dynamic changes in the T cell receptor repertoire during treatment with radiotherapy combined with an immune checkpoint inhibitor

Mol Oncol. 2021 Nov;15(11):2958-2968. doi: 10.1002/1878-0261.13082. Epub 2021 Sep 1.


Previous studies have indicated a synergistic effect between radiotherapy and immunotherapy. A better understanding of how this combination affects the immune system can help to clarify its role in the treatment of metastatic cancer. We performed T cell receptor (TCR) sequencing on 46 sequentially collected samples from 15 patients with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer, receiving stereotactic body radiotherapy combined with a programmed cell death ligand-1 (PD-L1) inhibitor. TCR repertoire diversity was assessed using Rényi diversity curves and the Shannon diversity index. TCR clones were tracked over time. We found decreasing or stable diversity in the best responders, and an increase in diversity at progression in patients with an initial response. Expansion of TCR clones was more often seen in responders. Several patients also developed new clones of high abundance. This seemed to be more related to radiotherapy than to immune checkpoint blockade. In summary, we observed similar dynamics in the TCR repertoire as have been described with immunotherapy alone. In addition, the occurrence of new unique clones of high abundance after radiotherapy may indicate that radiotherapy functions as a personalized cancer vaccine.

Keywords: T cell receptor sequencing; abscopal response; immunotherapy; non-small cell lung cancer; radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Immunotherapy
  • Lung Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism


  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell