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BackgroundThe mortality rate among patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) has improved significantly with the advent of chemoradiotherapy strategies. However, distant metastasis remains problematic. Tumor-specific reactivity in cancer patients has been detected exclusively in CD39+ T cells, particularly in CD39+CD103+ T cells. Circulating cancer-specific T cells are important for protecting against metastasis. This study aimed to evaluate the predictive value of circulating CD39+CD8+ T cells for metastasis in patients with NPC.MethodsWe performed a cross-sectional, longitudinal study of 55 patients with newly diagnosed NPC of stage III-IVa. All patients were initially treated with standard combined chemoradiotherapy. Blood samples were obtained from 24 patients before and at 1 month and 6 months after treatment. T cell expression of CD39 and CD103, together with the markers of T cell exhaustion programmed death-1 (PD-1)/T cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain-containing protein 3 (Tim-3) and markers of cell differentiation CD27/CC-chemokine receptor 7/CD45RA, were examined by flow cytometry. The Wilcoxon rank-sum test analysis was used to analyze the differences between two groups. Kaplan-Meier analysis was used for analysis of progression-free survival (PFS).ResultsThe expression of circulating CD39+CD8+ and CD39+CD103+ CD8+ T cells was significantly higher in patients without distant metastasis (CD39+CD8+: 6.52% [1.24%, 12.58%] vs. 2.41% [0.58%, 5.31%], Z=-2.073, P=0.038 and CD39+CD103+CD8+: 0.72% [0.26%, 2.05%] vs. 0.26% [0.12%, 0.64%], Z=-2.313, P = 0.021). Most CD39+ T cells did not express PD-1 or Tim-3. Patients with high expression of CD39+CD103+CD8+ T cells had better PFS than patients with low expression (log rank value = 4.854, P = 0.028). CD39+CD8+ T cells were significantly elevated at 1-month post-treatment (10.02% [0.98%, 17.42%] vs. 5.91% [0.61%, 10.23%], Z = -2.943, P = 0.003). The percentage of advanced differentiated CD8+ T cells also increased at 1-month post-treatment compared with pre-treatment (33.10% [21.60%, 43.05%] vs. 21.00% [11.65%, 43.00%], Z = -2.155, P = 0.031). There was a significant correlation between elevated CD39+CD8+ T cells and increased effector memory T cells (intermediate stage: r = 0.469, P = 0.031; advanced stage: r = 0.508, P = 0.019).ConclusionsCD39+CD8+ circulating T cells have preserved effector function, contributing to an improved prognosis and a reduced risk of metastasis among NPC patients. These cells may thus be a useful predictive marker for a better prognosis in patients with NPC.

Original publication




Journal article


Chinese medical journal

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Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Key Laboratory of Cancer Immunotherapy and Radiotherapy, The Third Affiliated Hospital of Xinjiang Medical University, Urumqi, Xinjiang 830011, China Xinjiang Key Laboratory of Oncology, The Affiliated Tumor Hospital of Xinjiang Medical University, Urumqi, Xinjiang 830011, China Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Oxford Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 2JD, UK Department of Radiation Oncology, Shandong Cancer Hospital and Institute, Jinan, Shandong 250117, China.