CD8+ T cell trajectory subtypes decode tumor heterogeneity and provide treatment recommendations for hepatocellular carcinoma

Front Immunol. 2022 Jul 27;13:964190. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.964190. eCollection 2022.


Introduction: Mounting evidence has revealed that the interactions and dynamic alterations among immune cells are critical in shaping the tumor microenvironment and ultimately map onto heterogeneous clinical outcomes. Currently, the underlying clinical significance of immune cell evolutions remains largely unexplored in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

Methods: A total of 3,817 immune cells and 1,750 HCC patients of 15 independent public datasets were retrieved. The Seurat and Monocle algorithms were used to depict T cell evolution, and nonnegative matrix factorization (NMF) was further applied to identify the molecular classification. Subsequently, the prognosis, biological characteristics, genomic variations, and immune landscape among distinct clusters were decoded. The clinical efficacy of multiple treatment approaches was further investigated.

Results: According to trajectory gene expression, three heterogeneous clusters with different clinical outcomes were identified. C2, with a more advanced pathological stage, presented the most dismal prognosis relative to C1 and C3. Eight independent external cohorts validated the robustness and reproducibility of the three clusters. Further explorations elucidated C1 to be characterized as lipid metabolic HCC, and C2 was referred to as cell-proliferative HCC, whereas C3 was defined as immune inflammatory HCC. Moreover, C2 also displayed the most conspicuous genomic instability, and C3 was deemed as "immune-hot", having abundant immune cells and an elevated expression of immune checkpoints. The assessments of therapeutic intervention suggested that patients in C1 were suitable for transcatheter arterial chemoembolization treatment, and patients in C2 were sensitive to tyrosine kinase inhibitors, while patients in C3 were more responsive to immunotherapy. We also identified numerous underlying therapeutic agents, which might be conducive to clinical transformation in the future.

Conclusions: Our study developed three clusters with distinct characteristics based on immune cell evolutions. For specifically stratified patients, we proposed individualized treatment strategies to improve the clinical outcomes and facilitate the clinical management.

Keywords: clinical treatment; hepatocellular carcinoma; heterogeneity; immunotherapy; prognosis; single-cell RNA-seq.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / therapy
  • Chemoembolization, Therapeutic*
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Tumor Microenvironment