Intratumor Heterogeneity Correlates With Reduced Immune Activity And Worse Survival In Melanoma Patients
Human malignant melanoma is a highly aggressive, heterogeneous and drug-resistant cancer. Due to a high number of clones, harboring various mutations that affect key pathways, there is an exceptional level of phenotypic variation and intratumor heterogeneity (ITH) in melanoma. This poses a significant challenge to personalized cancer medicine. Hitherto, it remains unclear to what extent the heterogeneity of melanoma affects the immune microenvironment. Herein, we explore the interaction between the tumor heterogeneity and the host immune response in a melanoma cohort utilizing The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA).
Clonal Heterogeneity Analysis Tool (CHAT) was used to estimate intratumor heterogeneity, and immune cell composition was estimated using CIBERSORT. The Overall Survival (OS) among groups was analyzed using Kaplan–Meier curves with the log-rank test and multivariate cox regression. RNA-seq data were evaluated to identify differentially expressed immunomodulatory genes. The reverse phase protein array (RPPA) data platform was used to validate immune responses at protein level.
Tumors with high heterogeneity were associated with decreased overall survival (p = 0.027). High CHAT tumors were correlated with less infiltration by anti-tumor CD8 T cells (p = 0.0049), T follicular cells (p = 0.00091), and M1 macrophages (p = 0.0028), whereas tumor-promoting M2 macrophages were increased (p = 0.02). High CHAT tumors correlated with a reduced expression of immunomodulatory genes, particularly Programmed Cell Death 1 (PD1) and its ligand PD-L1. In addition, high CHAT tumors exhibited lower immune Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs)-mediated toxicity pathway score (p = 2.9E−07) and cytotoxic pathway score (p = 2.9E−08). High CHAT tumors were also associated with a lower protein level of immune-regulatory kinases, such as lymphocyte-specific protein tyrosine kinase (LCK) (p = 3.4e−5) and spleen tyrosine kinase (SYK) (p = 0.0011).
Highly heterogeneous melanoma tumors are associated with reduced immune cell infiltration and immune response activation as well as decreased survival. Our results reveal that intratumor heterogeneity is an indicative factor for patient survival due to its impact on anti-tumor immune response.