Authors: Rocha, Sara; Basto, Afonso P.; Ijsselsteijn, Marieke E.; Teles, Sara P.; Azevedo, Maria M.; Gonçalves, Gilza; Gullo, Irene; Almeida, Gabriela M.; Maqueda, Joaquín J.; Oliveira, Marta I.; Carneiro, Fátima; Barata, João T.; Graça, Luís; de Miranda, Noel F. C. C.; Carvalho, Joana; Oliveira, Carla
Issue: Cancers (Basel) . 2021 Jan 23;13(3):421.
Gastric cancer (GC) patients display increased regulatory T cell (Tregs) numbers in peripheral blood and among tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. Nevertheless, the role of Tregs in GC progression remains controversial. Here, we sought to explore the impact of Tregs in GCs with distinct histology, and whether Tregs can directly influence tumor cell behavior and GC development. We performed a comprehensive immunophenotyping of 82 human GC cases, through an integrated analysis of multispectral immunofluorescence detection of T cells markers and patient clinicopathological data. Moreover, we developed 3D in vitro co-cultures with Tregs and tumor cells that were followed by high-throughput and light-sheet imaging, and their biological features studied with conventional/imaging flow cytometry and Western blotting. We showed that Tregs located at the tumor nest were frequent in intestinal-type GCs but did not associate with increased levels of effector T cells. Our in vitro results suggested that Tregs preferentially infiltrated intestinal-type GC spheroids, induced the expression of IL2Rα and activation of MAPK signaling pathway in tumor cells, and promoted spheroid growth. Accumulation of Tregs in intestinal-type GCs was increased at early stages of the stomach wall invasion and in the absence of vascular and perineural invasion. In this study, we proposed a non-immunosuppressive mechanism through which Tregs might directly modulate GC cells and thereby promote tumor growth. Our findings hold insightful implications for therapeutic strategies targeting intestinal-type GCs and other tumors with similar immune context.