The efficacy of immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) varies greatly among metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients. Loss of heterozygosity at the HLA-I locus (HLA-LOH) has been identified as an important immune escape mechanism. However, despite HLA-I disruptions in their tumor, many patients have durable ICB responses. Here we seek to identify HLA-I-independent features associated with ICB response in NSCLC. We use single-cell profiling to identify tumor-infiltrating, clonally expanded CD4+ T cells that express a canonical cytotoxic gene program and NSCLC cells with elevated HLA-II expression. We postulate cytotoxic CD4+ T cells mediate anti-tumor activity via HLA-II on tumor cells and augment HLA-I-dependent cytotoxic CD8+ T cell interactions to drive ICB response in NSCLC. We show that integrating tumor extrinsic cytotoxic gene expression with tumor mutational burden is associated with longer time to progression in a real-world cohort of 123 NSCLC patients treated with ICB regimens, including those with HLA-LOH.
© 2022. The Author(s).