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Clin Cancer Res. 2012 Jun 1;18(11):3022-9. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-11-3216. Epub 2012 Apr 17.

The prognostic value of FoxP3+ tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in cancer: a critical review of the literature.

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Trev and Joyce Deeley Research Centre, British Columbia Cancer Agency, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada.


CD8+ tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) are associated with survival in a variety of cancers. A second subpopulation of TIL, defined by forkhead box protein P3 (FoxP3) expression, has been reported to inhibit tumor immunity, resulting in decreased patient survival. On the basis of this premise, several groups are attempting to deplete FoxP3+ T cells to enhance tumor immunity. However, recent studies have challenged this paradigm by showing that FoxP3+ T cells exhibit heterogeneous phenotypes and, in some cohorts, are associated with favorable prognosis. These discrepant results could arise from differences in study methodologies or the biologic properties of specific cancer types. Here, we conduct the first systematic review of the prognostic significance of FoxP3+ T cells across nonlymphoid cancers (58 studies from 16 cancers). We assessed antibody specificity, cell-scoring strategy, multivariate modeling, use of single compared with multiple markers, and tumor site. Two factors proved important. First, when FoxP3 was combined with one additional marker, double-positive T cells were generally associated with poor prognosis. Second, tumor site had a major influence. FoxP3+ T cells were associated with poor prognosis in hepatocellular cancer and generally good prognosis in colorectal cancer, whereas other cancer types were inconsistent or understudied. We conclude that FoxP3+ T cells have heterogeneous properties that can be discerned by the use of additional markers. Furthermore, the net biologic effects of FoxP3+ T cells seem to depend on the tumor site, perhaps reflecting microenvironmental differences. Thus, depletion of FoxP3+ T cells might enhance tumor immunity in some patient groups but be detrimental in others.

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