Liver tumour immune microenvironment subtypes and neutrophil heterogeneity

Nature. 2022 Dec;612(7938):141-147. doi: 10.1038/s41586-022-05400-x. Epub 2022 Nov 9.


The heterogeneity of the tumour immune microenvironment (TIME), organized by various immune and stromal cells, is a major contributing factor of tumour metastasis, relapse and drug resistance1-3, but how different TIME subtypes are connected to the clinical relevance in liver cancer remains unclear. Here we performed single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) analysis of 189 samples collected from 124 patients and 8 mice with liver cancer. With more than 1 million cells analysed, we stratified patients into five TIME subtypes, including immune activation, immune suppression mediated by myeloid or stromal cells, immune exclusion and immune residence phenotypes. Different TIME subtypes were spatially organized and associated with chemokine networks and genomic features. Notably, tumour-associated neutrophil (TAN) populations enriched in the myeloid-cell-enriched subtype were associated with an unfavourable prognosis. Through in vitro induction of TANs and ex vivo analyses of patient TANs, we showed that CCL4+ TANs can recruit macrophages and that PD-L1+ TANs can suppress T cell cytotoxicity. Furthermore, scRNA-seq analysis of mouse neutrophil subsets revealed that they are largely conserved with those of humans. In vivo neutrophil depletion in mouse models attenuated tumour progression, confirming the pro-tumour phenotypes of TANs. With this detailed cellular heterogeneity landscape of liver cancer, our study illustrates diverse TIME subtypes, highlights immunosuppressive functions of TANs and sheds light on potential immunotherapies targeting TANs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Liver Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Liver Neoplasms* / immunology
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Neutrophils* / cytology
  • Neutrophils* / immunology
  • Prognosis
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Tumor Microenvironment* / immunology