Authors: Lynch, Kevin T.; Young, Samuel J.; Meneveau, Max O.; Wages, Nolan A.; Engelhard, Victor H.; Jr, Craig L. Slingluff; Mauldin, Ileana S.
Issue: J Immunother Cancer. 2021 Jun;9(6):e002273.
Background: Tertiary lymphoid structures (TLSs) are immune aggregates in peripheral tissues that may support adaptive immune responses. Their presence has been associated with clinical response to checkpoint blockade therapy (CBT), but it is unknown whether TLS have prognostic significance independent of CBT in melanoma. We hypothesized that TLS in melanoma metastases would be associated with increased intratumoral lymphocyte infiltration, but that the intra-TLS immunological milieu would be distinct from the intratumoral immunological milieu. We also hypothesized that the presence of TLS would be associated with improved survival, and that TLS maturation or intra-TLS lymphocyte activity would also correlate with survival. Methods: Cutaneous melanoma metastases (CMM) from 64 patients were evaluated by multiplex immunofluorescence for the presence and maturation status of TLS. Intra-TLS lymphocyte density, proliferation and B-cell Ig somatic hypermutation (AID<sup>+</sup>) were analyzed, as were markers of T-cell exhaustion and Th1/Tc1 differentiation. Associations between TLS maturation and intra-TLS immunologic activity were assessed, as well as associations with intratumoral immune cell infiltration. Independent associations with overall survival (OS) were assessed using log-rank tests and Cox proportional hazards models. Results: TLS were identified in 30 (47%) of 64 CMM (TLS<sup>+</sup>) and were associated with increased intratumoral lymphocyte infiltration. However, proliferation of intra-TLS lymphocytes did not correlate with intratumoral lymphocyte proliferation. Most were early TLS; however, subsets of primary or secondary follicle-like TLS were also present. TLS<sup>+</sup> lesions were associated with lower risk of tumor recurrence after metastasectomy and with improved OS in multivariate analyses (HR 0.51, p=0.04). OS was longer for TLS with low fractions of CD21<sup>+</sup> B-cells (HR 0.29, p=0.02) and shorter for those with low AID<sup>+</sup> fraction of B-cells (HR 2.74, p=0.03). Conclusions: The presence of TLS in CMMs is associated with improved OS in patients treated with surgery before CBT, but TLS vary widely in maturation state, in proportions of proliferating T and B cells, and in markers of B cell function, including AID and CD21. Importantly, these features have additional prognostic significance, which suggest that some TLS may have regulatory function, while others functioning to support antigen-driven immune responses, depending on the cellular composition and activation status.</p>