Kansy, B. A.; Wehrs, T. P.; Bruderek, K.; Si, Y.; Ludwig, S.; Droege, F.; Hasskamp, P.; Henkel, U.; Dominas, N.; Hoffmann, T. K.; Horn, P. A.; Schuler, M.; Gauler, T. C.; Lindemann, M.; Lang, S.; Bankfalvi, A.; Brandau, S.

2023 Cancer Immunol Immunother

Patients with HPV−-localized head and neck cancer (HNC) show inferior outcomes after surgery and radiochemotherapy compared to HPV-associated cancers. The underlying mechanisms remain elusive, but differences in immune status and immune activity may be implicated. In this study, we analyzed immune profiles of CD8+ T cells and myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC) in HPV+ versus HPV− disease.

The overall frequency of CD8+ T cells was reduced in HNC versus healthy donors but substantially increased after curative therapy (surgery and/or radiochemotherapy). In HPV+ patients, this increase was associated with significant induction of peripheral blood CD8+/CD45RA−/CD62L− effector memory cells. The frequency of HPV-antigen-specific CD8+ cells was low even in patients with virally associated tumors and dropped to background levels after curative therapy. Pre-therapeutic counts of circulating monocytic MDSC, but not PMN-MDSC, were increased in patients with HPV− disease. This increase was accompanied by reduced fractions of terminally differentiated CD8+ effector cells. HPV− tumors showed reduced infiltrates of CD8+ and CD45RO+ immune cells compared with HPV+ tumors. Importantly, frequencies of tumor tissue-infiltrating PMN-MDSC were increased, while percentages of Granzyme B+ and Ki-67+ CD8 T cells were reduced in patients with HPV− disease.

We report differences in frequencies and relative ratios of MDSC and effector T cells in HPV− HNC compared with more immunogenic HPV-associated disease. Our data provide new insight into the immunological profiles of these two tumor entities and may be utilized for more tailored immunotherapeutic approaches in the future.