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Oncotarget. 2016 Aug 30;7(35):56781-56797. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.10788.

Gene expression analysis of TIL rich HPV-driven head and neck tumors reveals a distinct B-cell signature when compared to HPV independent tumors.

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Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton & University Hospital Southampton, Southampton, UK.
La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology, La Jolla, CA, USA.
Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK.


Human papilloma virus (HPV)-associated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) has a better prognosis than it's HPV negative (HPV(-)) counterpart. This may be due to the higher numbers of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in HPV positive (HPV(+)) tumors. RNA-Sequencing (RNA-Seq) was used to evaluate whether the differences in clinical behaviour simply reflect a numerical difference in TILs or whether there is a fundamental behavioural difference between TILs in these two settings. Thirty-nine HNSCC tumors were scored for TIL density by immunohistochemistry. After the removal of 16 TILlow tumors, RNA-Seq analysis was performed on 23 TILhigh/med tumors (HPV(+) n=10 and HPV(-) n=13). Using EdgeR, differentially expressed genes (DEG) were identified. Immune subset analysis was performed using Functional Analysis of Individual RNA-Seq/ Microarray Expression (FAIME) and immune gene RNA transcript count analysis. In total, 1,634 DEGs were identified, with a dominant immune signature observed in HPV(+) tumors. After normalizing the expression profiles to account for differences in B- and T-cell number, 437 significantly DEGs remained. A B-cell associated signature distinguished HPV(+) from HPV(-) tumors, and included the DEGs CD200, GGA2, ADAM28, STAG3, SPIB, VCAM1, BCL2 and ICOSLG; the immune signal relative to T-cells was qualitatively similar between TILs of both tumor cohorts. Our findings were validated and confirmed in two independent cohorts using TCGA data and tumor-infiltrating B-cells from additional HPV(+) HNSCC patients. A B-cell associated signal segregated tumors relative to HPV status. Our data suggests that the role of B-cells in the adaptive immune response to HPV(+) HNSCC requires re-assessment.


RNA-sequencing; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; human papilloma virus; transcriptome; tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte

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