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Regulatory T cells in ovarian cancer are characterized by a highly activated phenotype distinct from that in melanoma

Toker, A., Nguyen, L.T., Stone, S.C. et al.

Purpose:
Regulatory T (Treg) cells expressing the transcription factor FOXP3 are essential for the maintenance of immunological self-tolerance but play a detrimental role in most cancers due to their ability to suppress antitumor immunity. The phenotype of human circulating Treg cells has been extensively studied, but less is known about tumor-infiltrating Treg cells. We studied the phenotype and function of tumor-infiltrating Treg cells in ovarian cancer and melanoma to identify potential Treg cell-associated molecules that can be targeted by tumor immunotherapies. Experimental Design: The phenotype of intratumoral and circulating Treg cells was analyzed by multicolor flow cytometry, mass cytometry, RNA-Seq and functional assays. Results: Treg cells isolated from ovarian tumors displayed a distinct cell surface phenotype with increased expression of a number of receptors associated with TCR engagement, including PD‑1, 4-1BB and ICOS. Higher PD-1 and 4-1BB expression was associated with increased responsiveness to further TCR stimulation and increased suppressive capacity, respectively. Transcriptomic and mass cytometry analyses revealed the presence of Treg cell subpopulations and further supported a highly activated state specifically in ovarian tumors. In comparison, Treg cells infiltrating melanomas displayed lower FOXP3, PD-1, 4-1BB and ICOS expression and were less potent suppressors of CD8 T cell proliferation. Conclusions: The highly activated phenotype of ovarian tumor-infiltrating Treg cells may be a key component of an immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment. Receptors that are expressed by tumor-infiltrating Treg cells could be exploited for the design of novel combination tumor immunotherapies.

Citation

Toker, A., Nguyen, L.T., Stone, S.C. et al. "Regulatory T cells in ovarian cancer are characterized by a highly activated phenotype distinct from that in melanoma" Clinical Cancer Research (2018): DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-18-0554