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The landscape of T cell infiltration in human cancer and its association with antigen presenting gene expression

By Chris Sander

Posted 01 Sep 2015
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/025908

Infiltrating T cells in the tumor microenvironment have crucial roles in the competing processes of pro-tumor and anti-tumor immune response. However, the infiltration level of distinct T cell subsets and the signals that draw them into a tumor, such as the expression of antigen presenting machinery (APM) genes, remain poorly characterized across human cancers. Here, we define a novel mRNA-based T cell infiltration score (TIS) and profile infiltration levels in 19 tumor types. We find that clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) is the highest for TIS and among the highest for the correlation between TIS and APM expression, despite a modest mutation burden. This finding is contrary to the expectation that immune infiltration and mutation burden are linked. To further characterize the immune infiltration in ccRCC, we use RNA-seq data to computationally infer the infiltration levels of 24 immune cell types in a discovery cohort of 415 ccRCC patients and validate our findings in an independent cohort of 101 ccRCC patients. We find three clusters of tumors that are primarily separated by levels of T cell infiltration and APM gene expression. In ccRCC, the levels of Th17 cells and the ratio of CD8+ T/Treg levels are associated with improved survival whereas the levels of Th2 cells and Tregs are associated with negative clinical outcome. Our analysis illustrates the utility of computational immune cell decomposition for solid tumors, and the potential of this method to guide clinical decision-making.

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