Single-cell sequencing on CD8+ TILs revealed the nature of exhausted T cells recognizing neoantigen and cancer/testis antigen in non-small cell lung cancer

J Immunother Cancer. 2023 Aug;11(8):e007180. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2023-007180.


Background: CD8+tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) are often observed in non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC). However, the characteristics of CD8+ TILs, especially T-cell populations specific for tumor antigens, remain poorly understood.

Methods: High throughput single-cell RNA sequencing and single-cell T-cell receptor (TCR) sequencing were performed on CD8+ TILs from three surgically-resected lung cancer specimens. Dimensional reduction for clustering was performed using Uniform Manifold Approximation and Projection. CD8+ TIL TCR specific for the cancer/testis antigen KK-LC-1 and for predicted neoantigens were investigated. Differentially-expressed gene analysis, Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) and single sample GSEA was performed to characterize antigen-specific T cells.

Results: A total of 6998 CD8+ T cells was analyzed, divided into 10 clusters according to their gene expression profile. An exhausted T-cell (exhausted T (Tex)) cluster characterized by the expression of ENTPD1 (CD39), TOX, PDCD1 (PD1), HAVCR2 (TIM3) and other genes, and by T-cell oligoclonality, was identified. The Tex TCR repertoire (Tex-TCRs) contained nine different TCR clonotypes recognizing five tumor antigens including a KK-LC-1 antigen and four neoantigens. By re-clustering the tumor antigen-specific T cells (n=140), it could be seen that the individual T-cell clonotypes were present on cells at different stages of differentiation and functional states even within the same Tex cluster. Stimulating these T cells with predicted cognate peptide indicated that TCR signal strength and subsequent T-cell proliferation and cytokine production was variable but always higher for neoantigens than KK-LC-1.

Conclusions: Our approach focusing on T cells with an exhausted phenotype among CD8+ TILs may facilitate the identification of tumor antigens and clarify the nature of the antigen-specific T cells to specify the promising immunotherapeutic targets in patients with NSCLC.

Keywords: Antigens, Neoplasm; CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes; Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating; Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms*
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Signal Transduction
  • Testis / metabolism


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell