The composition of tumor-targeted T cell infiltrates is a major prognostic factor in colorectal cancer (CRC) outcome; however, the functional role of these populations in prolonging patient survival remains unclear. Here, we evaluated 190 patients with CRC for the presence of functionally active tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), the tumor specificity of these TILs, and the correlation between patient TILs and long-term survival. Using intracytoplasmic cytokine staining in conjunction with HLA multimers loaded with tumor peptide and antigen-specific cytokine secretion assays, we determined that TNF-α expression delineates a population of tumor antigen–specific (TA-specific) cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) present within tumors from patients with CRC. Upregulation of TNF-α expression in TILs strongly correlated with an increase in the total amount of intratumoral TNF-α, which is indicative of tumor-specific CTL activity. Moreover, a retrospective multivariate analysis of 102 patients with CRC, which had multiple immune parameters evaluated, revealed that increased TNF-α concentration was an independent prognostic factor. Together, these results indicate that the prognostic impact of T cell infiltrates for CRC maybe largely based on subpopulations of active TA-specific T cells within the tumor, suggesting causal implication for these cells in patient survival. Additionally, these results support the use of intratumoral TNF-α, which is indicative of T cell function, as a prognostic parameter for CRC.
Christoph Reissfelder, Slava Stamova, Christina Gossmann, Marion Braun, Andreas Bonertz, Ute Walliczek, Mario Grimm, Nuh N. Rahbari, Moritz Koch, Maral Saadati, Axel Benner, Markus W. Büchler, Dirk Jäger, Niels Halama, Khashayarsha Khazaie, Jürgen Weitz, Philipp Beckhove