Single-Cell Transcriptome Analysis Reveals Different Immune Signatures in HPV- and HPV + Driven Human Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma

J Immunol Res. 2022 Sep 16;2022:2079389. doi: 10.1155/2022/2079389. eCollection 2022.


Background: Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a significant health problem and related to poor long-term outcomes, indicating more research to be done to deeply understand the underlying pathways.

Objective: This current study aimed in the assessment of the viral- (especially human papilloma virus [HPV]) and carcinogen-driven head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) microenvironment based on single-cell sequencing analysis.

Methods: Data were downloaded from GEO database (GSE139324), including 131224 cells from 18 HP- HNSCC patients and 8 HPV+ HNSCC patients. Following data normalization, all highly variable genes in single cells were identified, and batch correction was applied. Differentially expressed genes were identified using Wilcoxon rank sum test. A gene enrichment analysis was performed in each cell cluster using KEGG analysis. Single-cell pseudotime trajectories were constructed with MONOCLE (version 2.6.4). Cell-cell interactions were analyzed with CellChat R package. Additionally, cell-cell communication patterns in key signal pathways were compared in different tissue groups. A hidden Markov model (HMM) was used to predict gene expression states (on or off) throughout pseudotime. Five-year overall survival outcomes were compared in both HPV+ and HPV- subsets.

Results: 20,978 high-quality individual cells passed quality control. RNA-seq data were used from 522 HNSCC primary tumor samples. 1,137 differentially expressed genes between HPV+ and HPV- HNSCC patients were investigated. 96 differentially expressed genes were associated with overall survival and highly enriched in B cell associated biological process. Cell composition differed between types of samples. MHC-I, MHC-II, and MIF signaling pathways were found to be most relevant. Within these pathways, some cells were either signal receiver or signal sender, depending on sample type, respectively. Six genes were obtained, AREG and TGFBI (upregulation), CD27, CXCR3, MS4A1, and CD19 (downregulation), whose expression and HPV types were highly associated with worse overall survival. AREG and TGFBI were pDC marker genes, CXCR3 and CD27 were significantly expressed in T cell-related cells, while MS4A1 and CD19 were mainly expressed in B naïve cells.

Conclusions: This study revealed dynamic changes in cell percentage and heterogeneity of cell subtypes of HNSCC. AREG, TGFBI, CD27, CXCR3, MS4A1, and CD19 were associated with worse overall survival in HPV-related HNSCC. Especially B-cell related pathways were revealed as particularly relevant in HPV-related HNSCC. These findings are a basis for the development of biomarkers and therapeutic targets in respective patients.

MeSH terms

  • Alphapapillomavirus* / genetics
  • Carcinogens
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Papillomaviridae / genetics
  • Papillomavirus Infections*
  • Prognosis
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / genetics
  • Transcriptome
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics


  • Carcinogens