Association of high CD4-positive T cell infiltration with mutations in HLA class II-regulatory genes in microsatellite-unstable colorectal cancer.
Besides being expressed on professional antigen-presenting cells, HLA class II antigens are expressed on various tumors of non-lymphoid origin, including a subset of colorectal cancers (CRC). Information about the regulation of HLA class II antigen expression is important for a better understanding of their role in the interactions between tumor and immune cells. Whether lack of HLA class II antigen expression in tumors reflects the selective immune destruction of HLA class II antigen-expressing tumor cells is unknown. To address this question, we tested whether lack of HLA class II antigen expression in CRC was associated with immune cell infiltration. We selected microsatellite-unstable (MSI-H) CRC, because they show pronounced tumor antigen-specific immune responses and, in a subset of tumors, lack of HLA class II antigen expression due to mutations inactivating HLA class II-regulatory genes. We examined HLA class II antigen expression, mutations in regulatory genes, and CD4-positive T cell infiltration in 69 MSI-H CRC lesions. Mutations in RFX5, CIITA, and RFXAP were found in 13 (28.9 %), 3 (6.7 %), and 1 (2.2 %) out of 45 HLA class II antigen-negative tumors. CD4-positive tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte counts were significantly higher in HLA class II antigen-negative tumors harboring mutations in HLA class II-regulatory genes (107.4 T cells per 0.25 mm(2)) compared to tumors without mutations (55.5 T cells per 0.25 mm(2), p = 0.008). Our results suggest that the outgrowth of tumor cells lacking HLA class II antigen expression due to mutations of regulatory genes is favored in an environment of dense CD4-positive T cell infiltration.