The inhibitory receptor CD94/NKG2A on CD8 + tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in colorectal cancer: a promising new druggable immune checkpoint in the context of HLAE/β2m overexpression

Abstract : We previously demonstrated that HLA-E/β2m overexpression by tumor cells in colorectal cancers is associated with an unfavorable prognosis. However, the expression of its specific receptor CD94/NKG2 by intraepithelial tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, their exact phenotype and function, as well as the relation with the molecular status of colorectal cancer and prognosis remain unknown. Based on a retrospective cohort of 234 colorectal cancer patients, we assessed the expression of HLA-E, β2m, CD94, CD8, and NKp46 by immunohistochemistry on tissue microarray. The expression profile of HLA-E/ β2m on tumor cells and the density of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes were correlated to the clinicopathological and molecular features (Microsatellite status, BRAF and RAS mutations). Then, from the primary tumors of 27 prospective colorectal cancers, we characterized by multiparameter flow cytometry the nature (T and/or NK cells) and the co-expression of the inhibitory NKG2A or activating NKG2C chain of ex vivo isolated CD94 + tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. Their biological function was determined using an in vitro redirected cytolytic activity assay. Our results showed that HLA-E/β2m was preferentially overexpressed in microsatellite instable tumors compared with microsatellite stable ones (45% vs. 19%, respectively, p = 0.0001), irrespective of the RAS or BRAF mutational status. However, HLA-E/β2m + colorectal cancers were significantly enriched in CD94 + intraepithelial tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in microsatellite instable as well as in microsatellite stable tumors. Those CD94 + tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes mostly corresponded to CD8 + αβ T cells, and to a lesser extent to NK cells, and mainly co-expressed a functional inhibitory NKG2A chain. Finally, a high number of CD94 + intraepithelial tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in close contact with tumor cells was independently associated with a worse overall survival. In conclusion, these findings strongly suggest that HLA-E/β2m-CD94/NKG2A represents a new druggable inhibitory immune checkpoint, preferentially expressed in microsatellite instable tumors, but also in a subgroup of microsatellite stable tumors, leading to a new opportunity in colorectal cancer immunotherapies.
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Submitted on : Monday, September 9, 2019 - 9:47:36 AM
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Juliette Eugène, Nicolas Jouand, Kathleen Ducoin, Delphine Dansette, Romain Oger, et al.. The inhibitory receptor CD94/NKG2A on CD8 + tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in colorectal cancer: a promising new druggable immune checkpoint in the context of HLAE/β2m overexpression. Modern Pathology, Nature Publishing Group: Open Access Hybrid Model Option B, 2019, Epub ahead of print. ⟨10.1038/s41379-019-0322-9⟩. ⟨inserm-02281341⟩

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