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Modulation of the immune microenvironment of high-risk ductal carcinoma in situ by intralesional pembrolizumab injection

Authors: Glencer, Alexa C.; Wong, Jasmine M.; Hylton, Nola M.; Krings, Gregor; McCune, Emma; Rothschild, Harriet T.; Loveday, Tristan A.; Alvarado, Michael D.; Esserman, Laura J.; Campbell, Michael J.

Online: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41523-021-00267-z

Issue: NPJ Breast Cancer. 2021 May 25;7(1):59.


Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a risk factor for the subsequent development of invasive breast cancer. High-risk features include age <45 years, size >5 cm, high-grade, palpable mass, hormone receptor negativity, and HER2 positivity. We have previously shown that immune infiltrates are positively associated with these high-risk features, suggesting that manipulating the immune microenvironment in high-risk DCIS could potentially alter disease progression. Patients with high-risk DCIS were enrolled in this 3 × 3 phase 1 dose-escalation pilot study of 2, 4, and 8 mg intralesional injections of the PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor, pembrolizumab. Study participants received two intralesional injections, three weeks apart, prior to surgery. Tissue from pre-treatment biopsies and post-treatment surgical resections was analyzed using multiplex immunofluorescence (mIF) staining for various immune cell populations. The intralesional injections were easily administered and well-tolerated. mIF analyses demonstrated significant increases in total T cell and CD8+ T cell percentages in most patients after receiving pembrolizumab, even at the 2 mg dose. T cell expansion was confined primarily to the stroma rather than within DCIS-containing ducts. Neither cleaved caspase 3 (CC3) staining, a marker for apoptosis, nor DCIS volume (as measured by MRI) changed significantly following treatment. Intralesional injection of pembrolizumab is safe and feasible in patients with DCIS. Nearly all patients experienced robust total and CD8+ T cell responses. However, we did not observe evidence of cell death or tumor volume decrease by MRI, suggesting that additional strategies may be needed to elicit stronger anti-tumor immunity.