Purpose: Immunotherapy has the potential to improve the dismal prognosis in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA), but clinical trials, including those with single-agent PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibition, have been disappointing. Our aim was to examine the immune landscape of PDA as it relates to aspects of tumor biology, including neoepitope burden.
Experimental Design: We used publicly available expression data from 134 primary resection PDA samples from The Cancer Genome Atlas to stratify patients according to a cytolytic T-cell activity expression index. We correlated cytolytic immune activity with mutational, structural, and neoepitope features of the tumor.
Results: Human PDA displays a range of intratumoral cytolytic T-cell activity. PDA tumors with low cytolytic activity exhibited significantly increased copy number alterations, including recurrent amplifications of MYC and NOTCH2 and recurrent deletions and mutations of CDKN2A/B. In sharp contrast to other tumor types, high cytolytic activity in PDA did not correlate with increased mutational burden or neoepitope load (MHC class I and class II). Cytolytic-high tumors exhibited increased expression of multiple immune checkpoint genes compared to cytolytic-low tumors, except for PD-L1 expression, which was uniformly low.
Conclusions: These data identify a subset of human PDA with high cytolytic T-cell activity. Rather than being linked to mutation burden or neoepitope load, immune activation indices in PDA were inversely linked to genomic alterations, suggesting that intrinsic oncogenic processes drive immune inactivity in human PDA. Furthermore, these data highlight the potential importance of immune checkpoints other than PD-L1/PD-1 as therapeutic targets in this lethal disease. Clin Cancer Res; 1–10. ©2016 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Clinical Cancer Research Online (http://clincancerres.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received August 24, 2016.
- Revision received December 4, 2016.
- Accepted December 7, 2016.
- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.