The expression and prognostic impact of immune cytolytic activity-related markers in human malignancies: A comprehensive meta-analysis
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Background: Recently, immune-checkpoint blockade has shown striking clinical results in different cancer patients. However, a significant inter-individual and inter-tumor variability exists among different cancers. The expression of the toxins granzyme A (GZMA) and perforin 1 (PRF1), secreted by effector cytotoxic T cells and natural killer (NK) cells, were recently used as a denominator of the intratumoral immune cytolytic activity (CYT). These levels are significantly elevated upon CD8+ T-cell activation as well as during a productive clinical response against immune-checkpoint blockade therapies. Still, it is not completely understood how different tumors induce and adapt to immune responses. Methods: Here, we calculated the CYT across different cancer types and focused on differences between primary and metastatic tumors. Using data from 10,355, primary tumor resection samples and 2,787 normal samples that we extracted from The Cancer Genome Atlas and Genotype-Tissue Expression project databases, we screened the variation of CYT across 32 different cancer types and 28 different normal tissue types. We correlated the cytolytic levels in each cancer type with the corresponding patient group's overall survival, the expression of several immune-checkpoint molecules, as well as with the load of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), and tumor-associated neutrophils (TANs) in these tumors. Results: We found diverse levels of CYT across different cancer types, with highest levels in kidney, lung, and cervical cancers, and lowest levels in glioma, adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), and uveal melanoma. GZMA protein was either lowly expressed or absent in at least half of these tumors; whereas PRF1 protein was not detected in almost any of the different tumor types, analyzing tissue microarrays from 20 different tumor types. CYT was significantly higher in metastatic skin melanoma and correlated significantly to the TIL load. In TCGA-ACC, skin melanoma, and bladder cancer, CYT was associated with an improved patient outcome and high levels of both GZMA and PRF1 synergistically affected patient survival in these cancers. In bladder, breast, colon, esophageal, kidney, ovarian, pancreatic, testicular, and thyroid cancers, high CYT was accompanied by upregulation of at least one immune-checkpoint molecule, indicating that similar to melanoma and prostate cancer, immune responses in cytolytic-high tumors elicit immune suppression in the tumor microenvironment. Conclusion: Overall, our data highlight the existence of diverse levels of CYT across different cancer types and suggest that along with the existence of complicated associations among various tumor-infiltrated immune cells, it is capable to promote or inhibit the establishment of a permissive tumor microenvironment, depending on the cancer type. High levels of immunosuppression seem to exist in several tumor types.