J Immunother Cancer 2019 Apr 10;7(1):88. Epub 2019 Apr 10.
Yale Cancer Center, Breast Medical Oncology, Yale School of Medicine, 300 George Street, Suite 120, Rm133, New Haven, CT, 06511, USA.
Background: How the immune microenvironment changes during neoadjuvant chemotherapy of primary breast cancer is not well understood.
Methods: We analyzed pre- and post-treatment samples from 60 patients using the NanoString PanCancer IO360™ assay to measure the expression of 750 immune-related genes corresponding to 14 immune cell types and various immune functions, and assessed TIL counts and PD-L1 protein expression by immunohistochemistry. Treatment associated changes in gene expression levels were compared using t-test with Bonferroni correction. TIL count, PD-L1 protein and immune metagenes were compared using Wilcoxon test. Baseline immune markers were correlated with pathologic complete response (pCR) using estrogen receptor and treatment arm adjusted logistic regression.
Results: At baseline, high TIL counts and high expression of chemoattractant cytokines (CCL21, CCL19) and cytotoxic T cell markers were associated with higher pCR rate. High expression of stromal genes (VEGFB, TGFB3, PDGFB, FGFR1, IGFR1), mast and myeloid inflammatory cell metagenes, stem cell related genes (CD90, WNT11, CTNNB1) and CX3CR1, and IL11RA were associated with residual disease (RD). After treatment, in cases with pCR, TIL counts and most immune genes decreased significantly. Among RD cases, TIL counts and PD-L1 expression did not change but cellular stress and hypoxia associated genes (DUSP1, EGR1), and IL6, CD36, CXCL2, CD69 and the IL8/VEGF metagene increased.
Conclusions: Activated T cells in the tumor microenvironment are associated with pCR whereas stromal functions are associated with residual disease. Most immune functions decrease during neoadjuvant chemotherapy but several immunotherapy targets (PD-L1, IL6, IL8) remain expressed in RD suggesting potential therapeutic strategies.