Single-cell analyses reveal key immune cell subsets associated with response to PD-L1 blockade in triple-negative breast cancer

Cancer Cell. 2021 Oct 5;S1535-6108(21)00499-2. doi: 10.1016/j.ccell.2021.09.010. Online ahead of print.


In triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), the benefit of combining chemotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors is still not very clear. We utilize single-cell RNA- and ATAC-sequencing to examine the immune cell dynamics in 22 patients with advanced TNBC treated with paclitaxel or its combination with the anti-PD-L1 atezolizumab. We demonstrate that high levels of baseline CXCL13+ T cells are linked to the proinflammatory features of macrophages and can predict effective responses to the combination therapy. In responsive patients, lymphoid tissue inducer (LTi) cells, follicular B (Bfoc) cells, CXCL13+ T cells, and conventional type 1 dendritic cells (cDC1) concertedly increase following the combination therapy, but instead decrease after paclitaxel monotherapy. Our data highlight the importance of CXCL13+ T cells in effective responses to anti-PD-L1 therapies and suggest that their reduction by paclitaxel regimen may compromise the clinical outcomes of accompanying atezolizumab for TNBC treatment.

Keywords: anti-PD-L1 blockade; atezolizumab in combination with paclitaxel; immune cells; single-cell RNA-seq and ATACseq; temporal dynamics; triple-negative breast cancer.