The Crosstalk Between Malignant Cells and Tumor-Promoting Immune Cells Relevant to Immunotherapy in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma

Front Cell Dev Biol. 2022 Jan 11;9:821232. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2021.821232. eCollection 2021.


Background: Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is dominated by an immunosuppressive microenvironment, which makes immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) often non-responsive. Understanding the mechanisms by which PDAC forms an immunosuppressive microenvironment is important for the development of new effective immunotherapy strategies. Methods: This study comprehensively evaluated the cell-cell communications between malignant cells and immune cells by integrative analyses of single-cell RNA sequencing data and bulk RNA sequencing data of PDAC. A Malignant-Immune cell crosstalk (MIT) score was constructed to predict survival and therapy response in PDAC patients. Immunological characteristics, enriched pathways, and mutations were evaluated in high- and low MIT groups. Results: We found that PDAC had high level of immune cell infiltrations, mainly were tumor-promoting immune cells. Frequent communication between malignant cells and tumor-promoting immune cells were observed. 15 ligand-receptor pairs between malignant cells and tumor-promoting immune cells were identified. We selected genes highly expressed on malignant cells to construct a Malignant-Immune Crosstalk (MIT) score. MIT score was positively correlated with tumor-promoting immune infiltrations. PDAC patients with high MIT score usually had a worse response to immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) immunotherapy. Conclusion: The ligand-receptor pairs identified in this study may provide potential targets for the development of new immunotherapy strategy. MIT score was established to measure tumor-promoting immunocyte infiltration. It can serve as a prognostic indicator for long-term survival of PDAC, and a predictor to ICB immunotherapy response.

Keywords: cell-cell communication; immunocyte infiltration; immunotherapy; pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma; single cell RNA-seq.