Differing phenotypes between intraepithelial and stromal lymphocytes in early-stage tongue cancer

Fuminori Katou, Haruo Ohtani, Yoshiko Watanabe, Takashi Nakayama, Osamu Yoshie, Kenji Hashimoto
Cancer Research 2007 December 1, 67 (23): 11195-201
The significance of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) has attracted much attention in relation to the prognosis of patients. We herein examined the activation status of the TILs in relation to the tumor microenvironment. By using frozen sections of human early-stage tongue cancers (n = 22), the TILs in the cancer nests and those in the cancer stroma were compared for the expression of PD-1, NKG2A, NKG2D, CD69, and Ki-67. The lymphocytes in oral lichen planus, an active immune response-mediated mucosal disease, were also analyzed for comparison purposes. All of the cancer specimens were abundantly infiltrated by CD8(+) T cells and CD56(+) natural killer (NK) cells in the stroma, as well as in the tumor nest. The tumor nest-infiltrating (intraepithelial) CD8(+) T cells frequently expressed PD-1, an inhibitory receptor, in sharp contrast to those in the stroma or in the lichen planus. Conversely, the intraepithelial CD8(+) T cells only infrequently expressed NKG2D, an activating receptor, in contrast to those in the stroma or in the lichen planus. No intraepithelial CD8(+) T cells expressed Ki-67, a proliferation-associated marker, whereas those in the stroma frequently expressed it. Furthermore, the intraepithelial NK cells expressed NKG2A, an inhibitory receptor, more frequently than those in the stroma or the lichen planus. Collectively, the intraepithelial CD8(+) T cells and NK cells are phenotypically inactivated, whereas stromal counterparts are phenotypically just as active as those in the lichen planus. These results suggest the first-step occurrence of an immune evasion mechanism in the tumor nest of oral squamous cell carcinoma.

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