Objective A comprehensive understanding of anticancer immune responses is paramount for the optimal application and development of cancer immunotherapies. We unravelled local and systemic immune profiles in patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) by high-dimensional analysis to provide an unbiased characterisation of the immune contexture of CRC.
Design Thirty-six immune cell markers were simultaneously assessed at the single-cell level by mass cytometry in 35 CRC tissues, 26 tumour-associated lymph nodes, 17 colorectal healthy mucosa and 19 peripheral blood samples from 31 patients with CRC. Additionally, functional, transcriptional and spatial analyses of tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes were performed by flow cytometry, single-cell RNA-sequencing and multispectral immunofluorescence.
Results We discovered that a previously unappreciated innate lymphocyte population (Lin–CD7+CD127–CD56+CD45RO+) was enriched in CRC tissues and displayed cytotoxic activity. This subset demonstrated a tissue-resident (CD103+CD69+) phenotype and was most abundant in immunogenic mismatch repair (MMR)-deficient CRCs. Their presence in tumours was correlated with the infiltration of tumour-resident cytotoxic, helper and γδ T cells with highly similar activated (HLA-DR+CD38+PD-1+) phenotypes. Remarkably, activated γδ T cells were almost exclusively found in MMR-deficient cancers. Non-activated counterparts of tumour-resident cytotoxic and γδ T cells were present in CRC and healthy mucosa tissues, but not in lymph nodes, with the exception of tumour-positive lymph nodes.
Conclusion This work provides a blueprint for the understanding of the heterogeneous and intricate immune landscape of CRC, including the identification of previously unappreciated immune cell subsets. The concomitant presence of tumour-resident innate and adaptive immune cell populations suggests a multitargeted exploitation of their antitumour properties in a therapeutic setting.