Background and aims Chronic inflammation induced by chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection increases the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, little is known about the immune landscape of HBV-related HCC and its influence on the design of effective cancer immunotherapeutics.
Methods We interrogated the immune microenvironments of HBV-related HCC and non-viral-related HCC using immunohistochemistry and cytometry by time-of-flight (CyTOF). On identifying unique immune subsets enriched in HBV-related HCC, we further interrogated their phenotypes and functions using next-generation sequencing (NGS) and in vitro T-cell proliferation assays.
Results In-depth interrogation of the immune landscapes showed that regulatory T cells (TREG) and CD8+ resident memory T cells (TRM) were enriched in HBV-related HCC, whereas Tim-3+CD8+ T cells and CD244+ natural killer cells were enriched in non-viral-related HCC. NGS of isolated TREG and TRM from HBV-related HCC and non-viral-related HCC identified distinct functional signatures associated with T-cell receptor signalling, T-cell costimulation, antigen presentation and programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) signalling. TREG and TRM from HBV-related HCC expressed more PD-1 and were functionally more suppressive and exhausted than those from non-virus-related HCC. Furthermore, immunosuppression by PD-1+ TREG could be reversed with anti-PD-1 blockade. Using multiplexed tissue immunofluorescence, we further demonstrated that TREG and TRM contributed to overall patient survival: TREG were associated with a poor prognosis and TRM were associated with a good prognosis in HCC.
Conclusion We have shown that the HBV-related HCC microenvironment is more immunosuppressive and exhausted than the non-viral-related HCC microenvironment. Such in-depth understanding has important implications in disease management and appropriate application of immunotherapeutics.
- hepatitis B
- hepatocellular carcinoma
- cancer immunobiology
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CJL and YHL contributed equally.
SA and VC contributed equally.
Contributors YHL and CJL performed most experiments, analysed the data and prepared the manuscript; LP analysed the NGS data; LL assisted in CyTOF data acquisition; CC performed RNA sequencing experiments; JY assisted in immune subsets sorting; MW performed univariate and multivariate analyses; TKHL and JY (pathologists) prepared and provided tissue samples; HCT (oncologist) advised on patient recruitment and clinical analysis; SYL, CYC, BKPG and AC (surgeons) assisted in patient recruitment and provided samples; MH (Zurich) and IOLN (Hong Kong) provided samples from overseas cohorts; PC provided clinical advice, recruited and provided samples for most patients; SA designed the study pipeline and assisted in writing the manuscript; VC designed the studies, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript.
Funding This work was supported by the National Medical Research Council, Singapore (ref numbers: MOHIAFCAT2001, TCR15Jun006, CIRG16may048, CSAS16Nov006, NMRC/STaR/020/2013, CIRg13nov032, NMRC/MOHIAFCAT1-6003 and NMRC/MOHIAFCAT2/005/2015), the A*STAR Biomedical Research Council-Economy Development Board (BMRC-EDB IAF: IAF311020 and SPF2014/005) and Duke-NUS and SingHealth. MH was supported by an ERC CoG grant (HepatoMetaboPath) and the SFB 179 and 209.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent Obtained.
Ethics approval Centre IRB.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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