Background: Vulvar squamous cell carcinoma (VSCC) has been suggested to consist of three subtypes; HPVpositive, HPV-negative mutated TP53 or HPV-negative TP53 wildtype, with different clinical courses. To analyze the immune infiltrate in these molecular subtypes and its impact on clinical outcome, an in-depth study of the tumor immune microenvironment was performed. Methods: Sixty-five patients with invasive VSCC matched for age, FIGO stage and treatment modality, were grouped according to the presence of HPV and p53 protein expression status. Archived tissues were analyzed for intraepithelial and stromal expression of CD3, CD8, Foxp3, PD-1, and pan-keratin in randomly selected areas using immunofluorescence. Additional phenotyping of T cells was performed ex-vivo on VSCC (n = 14) and blood samples by flow cytometry. Healthy vulvar samples and blood served as controls. Results: Based on T-cell infiltration patterns about half of the VSCC were classified as inflamed or altered-excluded while one-third was immune-deserted. High intraepithelial helper T cell infiltration was observed in 78% of the HPVinduced VSCC, 60% of the HPVnegVSCC/p53wildtype and 40% of the HPVnegVSCC with abnormal p53 expression. A high intraepithelial infiltration with activated (CD3+ PD-1+ ), specifically helper T cells (CD3+ CD8− Foxp3− ), was associated with a longer recurrence-free period and overall survival, irrespective of HPV and p53 status. Flow cytometry confirmed the tumor-specific presence of activated (CD4+ PD-1++CD161− CD38+ HLA-DR+ and CD8+ CD103+ CD161− NKG2A+/− PD1++CD38++HLA-DR+ ) effector memory T cells. Conclusion: This is the first study demonstrating an association between intraepithelial T cells and clinical outcome in VSCC. Our data suggest that abnormal p53 expressing VSCCs mostly are cold tumors whereas HPV-driven VSCCs are strongly T-cell infiltrated.

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Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Kortekaas, K.E., Santegoets, S.J., Abdulrahman, Z., van Ham, V. J., van Tol, M., Ehsan, I., … van der Burg, S. (2019). High numbers of activated helper T cells are associated with better clinical outcome in early stage vulvar cancer, irrespective of HPV or p53 status. Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer, 7(1). doi:10.1186/s40425-019-0712-z