Characterization of the immune profile of oral tongue squamous cell carcinomas with advancing disease

Katie Meehan, Connull Leslie, Michaela Lucas, Angela Jacques, Bob Mirzai, James Lim, Max Bulsara, Yasir Khan, Nicholas C. Wong, Benjamin Solomon, Chady Sader, Peter Friedland, Gisela Mir Arnau, Timothy Semple, Annette M. Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Web of Science)


We investigated whether a unique immune response was instigated with the development of oral tongue squamous cell carcinomas (OTSCC), with/without nodal involvement, with/without recurrent metastatic disease, or within tumor involved nodes. One hundred and ten formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded samples were collected from a retrospective cohort of 67 OTSCC patients and 10 non-cancerous tongue samples. Targets including CD4, CD8, FOXP3, PD-L1, and PD-1 were analyzed by immunohistochemistry. The Nanostring PanCancer Immune Profiling Panel was used for gene expression profiling. Data were externally validated in the The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) head and neck (HNSCC), melanoma and lung squamous cell carcinoma (LSCC) cohorts. A 24-immune gene signature was identified that discriminated more aggressive OTSCC cases, and although not prognostic in HNSCC was associated with survival in other TCGA cohorts (improved survival for melanoma, P <.001 and worse survival for LSCC, P =.038). OTSCC exhibited concordant gene and immunohistochemical (IHC) features characterized by a TH-2 biased, proinflammatory profile with upregulated B cell and neutrophil gene activity and increased CD4, FOXP3, and PD-L1 expression (P <.001 for all by IHC). Compared to less advanced disease, nodal involvement and recurrent OTSCC did not induce a different immune response although recurrent disease was characterized by significantly higher PD-L1 expression (P =.004 by SP263, P =.013 by 22C3, P =.004 for gene expression). Identification of a gene signature associated with different prognostic effects in other cancers highlights common pathways of immune dysregulation that are impacted by the tumor origin. The significant immunosuppressive signaling in OTSCC indicates primary failure of immune system to control carcinogenesis emphasizing the need for early, combination therapeutic approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4791-4807
Number of pages17
JournalCancer Medicine
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


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