IJMS, Vol. 23, Pages 11559: Tumor-Intrinsic Nuclear β-Catenin Associates with an Immune Ignorance Phenotype and a Poorer Prognosis in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinomas (International Journal of Molecular Sciences)
Activation of WNT/β-catenin signaling has been associated with a non-T-cell-inflamed tumor microenvironment (TME) in several cancers. The aim of this work was to investigate the relationship between β-catenin signaling and TME inflammation in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs). Membrane and nuclear β-catenin expression, PD-L1 expression, and CD8+ tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) density were jointly evaluated by immunohistochemistry in a series of 372 HPV-negative HNSCCs. Membrane β-catenin levels decreased in carcinomas compared to the normal epithelium. Positive nuclear β-catenin was detected in 50 tumors (14.3%) and was significantly associated with a low CD8+ TIL density (168 cells/mm2 versus 293 cells/mm2 in nuclear-β-catenin-negative cases; p = 0.01) and a tendency for a lower expression of PD-L1, resulting in association with a noninflamed TME (i.e., type II, immunological ignorance). Multivariate Cox analysis further demonstrated that low infiltration by CD8+ TILs (HR = 1.6, 95% CI = 1.19–2.14, p = 0.002) and nuclear β-catenin expression (HR = 1.47, 95% CI = 1.01–2.16, p = 0.04) were both independently associated with a poorer disease-specific survival. In conclusion, tumor-intrinsic nuclear β-catenin activation is associated with a non-inflamed TME phenotype and a poorer prognosis, thereby suggesting a possible implication as an immune exclusion mechanism for a subset of HNSCC patients.