Cancers that are poorly immune infiltrated pose a substantial challenge, with current immunotherapies yielding limited clinical success. Stem-like memory T cells (TSCM) have been identified as a subgroup of T cells that possess strong proliferative capacity and that can expand and differentiate following interactions with dendritic cells (DCs). In this study, we explored the pattern of expression of a recently discovered inhibitory receptor poliovirus receptor-related immunoglobulin domain protein (PVRIG) and its ligand, poliovirus receptor-related ligand 2 (PVRL2), in the human tumor microenvironment. Using spatial and single-cell RNA transcriptomics data across diverse cancer indications, we found that among the T-cell checkpoints, PVRIG is uniquely expressed on TSCM and PVRL2 is expressed on DCs in immune aggregate niches in tumors. PVRIG blockade could therefore enhance TSCM–DC interactions and efficiently drive T-cell infiltration to tumors. Consistent with these data, following PVRIG blockade in patients with poorly infiltrated tumors, we observed immune modulation including increased tumor T-cell infiltration, T-cell receptor (TCR) clonality, and intratumoral T-cell expansion, all of which were associated with clinical benefit. These data suggest PVRIG blockade as a promising strategy to induce potent antitumor T-cell responses, providing a novel approach to overcome resistance to immunotherapy in immune-excluded tumors.

Synopsis: Immune-excluded tumors rarely respond to immunotherapy. The authors show that blocking interactions between the T-cell checkpoint poliovirus receptor-related immunoglobulin domain protein (PVRIG) on stem-like memory T cells and its ligand PVRL2 on intratumoral dendritic cells induces T-cell proliferation and infiltration, suggesting new therapeutic opportunities for immune-excluded tumors.

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