Paramount to the efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitors is proper selection of patients with adequate tumor immunogenicity and a robust but suppressed immune infiltrate. In colon cancer, immune-based therapies are approved for patients with DNA mismatch repair (MMR) deficiencies, in whom accumulation of genetic mutations results in increased neoantigen expression, triggering an immune response that is suppressed by the PD-L1/PD-1 pathway. Here, we report that characterization of the microenvironment of MMR-deficient metastatic colorectal cancer using multiplex fluorescent immunohistochemistry (mfIHC) identified increased infiltration of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs), which were more often engaged with epithelial cells (ECs) and improved overall survival. A subset of patients with intact MMR but a similar immune microenvironment to MMR-deficient patients was identified and found to universally express high levels of PD-L1, suggesting that they may represent a currently untreated, checkpoint inhibitor–responsive population. Further, PD-L1 expression on antigen-presenting cells (APCs) in the tumor microenvironment (TME) resulted in impaired CTL/EC engagement and enhanced infiltration and engagement of Tregs. Characterization of the TME by mfIHC highlights the interconnection between immunity and immunosuppression in metastatic colon cancer and may better stratify patients for receipt of immunotherapies.


Jenny Lazarus, Tomasz Maj, J. Joshua Smith, Mirna Perusina Lanfranca, Arvind Rao, Michael I. D’Angelica, Lawrence Delrosario, Alexander Girgis, Casey Schukow, Jinru Shia, Ilona Kryczek, Jiaqi Shi, Isaac Wasserman, Howard Crawford, Hari Nathan, Marina Pasca Di Magliano, Weiping Zou, Timothy L. Frankel


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