Over 70% of oropharyngeal head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSC) cases in the United States are positive for human papillomavirus (HPV) yet biomarkers for stratifying oropharyngeal head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSC) patient risk are limited. We used immunogenomics to identify differentially expressed genes in immune cells of HPV(+) and HPV(-) squamous carcinomas. Candidate genes were tested in clinical specimens using both quantitative RT-PCR and IHC and validated by IHC using the Carolina Head and Neck Cancer Study (CHANCE) tissue microarray of HNSC cases. We performed multiplex immunofluorescent staining to confirm expression within the immune cells of HPV(+) tumors, receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analyses, and assessed survival outcomes. The neuronal gene Synaptogyrin-3 (SYNGR3) is robustly expressed in immune cells of HPV(+) squamous cancers. Multiplex immunostaining and single cell RNA-seq analyses confirmed SYNGR3 expression in T cells, but also unexpectedly in B cells of HPV(+) tumors. ROC curve analyses revealed that combining SYNGR3 and p16 provides more sensitivity and specificity for HPV detection compared to p16 IHC alone. SYNGR3-high HNSC patients have significantly better prognosis with five-year OS and DSS rates of 60% and 71%, respectively. Moreover, combining p16 localization and SYNGR3 expression can further risk stratify HPV(+) patients such that high cytoplasmic, low nuclear p16 do significantly worse (Hazard Ratio, 8.6; P = 0.032) compared to patients with high cytoplasmic, high nuclear p16. SYNGR3 expression in T and B cells is associated with HPV status and enhanced survival outcomes of HNSC patients.
Keywords: Diagnostic biomarkers; HPV(+) HNSC; Head; Neck & Oral Cancers; Prognostic biomarkers; Tumor Immune Microenvironment biomarker.