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Comprehensive Immune Profiling of Medullary Thyroid Cancer

Authors: Pozdeyev, Nikita; Erickson, Timothy A.; Zhang, Lian; Ellison, Kimberly; Rivard, Christopher J.; Sams, Sharon; Hirsch, Fred R.; Haugen, Bryan R.; French, Jena D.

Online: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/thy.2019.0604

Issue: Thyroid. 2020 Sep;30(9):1263-1279.


Background: Despite advances in targeted kinase inhibitor development for patients with medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), most patients develop resistance and would benefit from alternative approaches. Immune-based therapies are now considered for patients with progressive MTC. This study is the first comprehensive assessment of the immune milieu, immune-suppressive molecules, and potential tumor antigens in patients with MTC. Methods: Primary and/or regionally metastatic tumor tissues from 46 patients with MTC were screened for immune infiltrates by using standard immunohistochemistry (IHC) and further analyzed by multispectral imaging for T cell and myeloid markers. RNASeq expression profiling was performed in parallel. RNASeq, targeted sequencing, and IHC techniques identified cancer-associated mutations and MTC-enriched proteins. Results: Organized immune infiltration was observed in 49% and 90% of primary and metastatic tumors, respectively. CD8+ cells were the dominant T cell subtype in most samples, while CD163+ macrophages were most frequent among myeloid infiltrates. PD-1+ T cells were evident in 24% of patients. Myeloid subsets were largely major histocompatibility complex II (MHCII-), suggesting a dysfunctional phenotype. Expression profiling confirmed enrichment in T cell, macrophage, and inflammatory profiles in a subset of samples. PD-L1 was expressed at low levels in a small subset of patients, while the immune regulatory molecules CD155 and CD47 were broadly expressed. Calcitonin, GRP, HIST1H4E, NOMO3, and NPIPA2 were highly and specifically expressed in MTC. Mutations in tumor suppressors, PTEN and p53, and mismatch repair genes, MSH2 and MSH6, may be relevant to disease progression and antigenicity. Conclusions: This study suggests that MTC is a more immunologically active tumor that has been previously reported. Patients with advanced MTC should be screened for targetable antigens and immune checkpoints to determine their eligibility for current clinical trials. Additional studies are necessary to fully characterize the antigenic potential of MTC and may encourage the development of adoptive T cells therapies for this rare tumor.

Keywords: immune profiling; immune therapy; medullary; mutation; thyroid cancer.