Dual Immune Checkpoint Blockade Induces Analogous Alterations in the Dysfunctional CD8+ T-cell and Activated Treg Compartment.



To dissect the effect of neoadjuvant PD-1 and CTLA4 blockade on intratumoral T cells in treatment-naive head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, we analyzed primary tumor immune infiltrates from responding and nonresponding patients. At baseline, a higher ratio between active (4-1BB/OX40+) and inactive regulatory CD4+ T cells was associated with immunotherapy response. Furthermore, upon therapy, this active regulatory T-cell (Treg) population showed a profound decrease in responding patients. In an analogous process, intratumoral dysfunctional CD8+ T cells displayed decreased expression of activity and dysfunction-related genes in responding patients, whereas in clinical nonresponders, natural killer cells showed an increased cytotoxic profile early upon treatment. These data reveal immunologic changes in response to dual PD-1/CTLA4 blockade, including a parallel remodeling of presumed tumor-reactive Treg and CD8+ T-cell compartments in responding patients, and indicate that the presence of activated Tregs at baseline may be associated with response.


In head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, neoadjuvant PD-1/CTLA4 blockade has shown substantial response rates (20%-35%). As recognition of tumor antigens by T cells appears to be a critical driver of therapy response, a better understanding of alterations in T-cell state that are associated with response and resistance is of importance. This article is featured in Selected Articles from This Issue, p. 2109.

More about this publication

Cancer discovery
  • Volume 13
  • Issue nr. 10
  • Pages 2212-2227
  • Publication date 05-10-2023

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