Dynamics and survival associations of T cell receptor clusters in patients with pleural mesothelioma treated with immunotherapy

Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer 2023 June [Link]

Aakash P Desai, Farhad Kosari, Maria Disselhorst, Jun Yin, Alireza Agahi, Tobias Peikert, Julia Udell, Sarah H Johnson, James Smadbeck, Stephen Murphy, Giannoula Karagouga, Alexa McCune, Janet Schaefer-Klein, Mitesh J Borad, John Cheville, George Vasmatzis, Paul Baas, Aaron Mansfield


Background: Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) are now a first-line treatment option for patients with pleural mesothelioma with the recent approval of ipilimumab and nivolumab. Mesothelioma has a low tumor mutation burden and no robust predictors of survival with ICI. Since ICIs enable adaptive antitumor immune responses, we investigated T-cell receptor (TCR) associations with survival in participants from two clinical trials treated with ICI.

Methods: We included patients with pleural mesothelioma who were treated with nivolumab (NivoMes, NCT02497508) or nivolumab and ipilimumab (INITIATE, NCT03048474) after first-line therapy. TCR sequencing was performed with the ImmunoSEQ assay in 49 and 39 pretreatment and post-treatment patient peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) samples. These data were integrated with TCR sequences found in bulk RNAseq data by TRUST4 program in 45 and 35 pretreatment and post-treatment tumor biopsy samples and TCR sequences from over 600 healthy controls. The TCR sequences were clustered into groups of shared antigen specificity using GIANA. Associations of TCR clusters with overall survival were determined by cox proportional hazard analysis.

Results: We identified 4.2 million and 12 thousand complementarity-determining region 3 (CDR3) sequences from PBMCs and tumors, respectively, in patients treated with ICI. These CDR3 sequences were integrated with 2.1 million publically available CDR3 sequences from healthy controls and clustered. ICI-enhanced T-cell infiltration and expanded T cell diversity in tumors. Cases with TCR clones in the top tertile in the pretreatment tissue or in circulation had significantly better survival than the bottom two tertiles (p<0.04). Furthermore, a high number of shared TCR clones between pretreatment tissue and in circulation was associated with improved survival (p=0.01). To potentially select antitumor clusters, we filtered for clusters that were (1) not found in healthy controls, (2) recurrent in multiple patients with mesothelioma, and (3) more prevalent in post-treatment than pretreatment samples. The detection of two-specific TCR clusters provided significant survival benefit compared with detection of 1 cluster (HR<0.001, p=0.026) or the detection of no TCR clusters (HR=0.10, p=0.002). These two clusters were not found in bulk tissue RNA-seq data and have not been reported in public CDR3 databases.

Conclusions: We identified two unique TCR clusters that were associated with survival on treatment with ICI in patients with pleural mesothelioma. These clusters may enable approaches for antigen discovery and inform future targets for design of adoptive T cell therapies.