First published August 29, 2019 - More info
CD8+ tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) correlate with relapse-free survival (RFS) in most cancer types, including breast cancer. However, subset composition, functional status, and spatial location of CD8+ TILs in relation to RFS in human breast tumors remain unclear. Spatial tissue analysis via quantitative immunofluorescence showed that infiltration of CD8+ T cells into cancer islands is more significantly associated with RFS than CD8+ T cell infiltration into either tumor stroma or total tumor. Localization into cancer islands within tumors is mediated by expression of the integrin CD103, which is a marker for tissue resident memory T cells (TRMs). Analysis of fresh tumor samples revealed that CD8+ TRMs are functionally similar to other CD8+ TILs, suggesting that the basis of their protective effect is their spatial distribution rather than functional differences. Indeed, CD103+ TRMs, as compared to CD103- CD8+ TILs, are enriched within cancer islands and CD8+ TRM proximity to cancer cells drives the association of CD8+ TIL densities with RFS. Together, these findings reveal the importance of cancer island localized CD8+ TRMs in surveillance of the breast tumor microenvironment and as a critical determinant of RFS in breast cancer patients.