Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has a dismal prognosis, and though checkpoint blocking antibodies have significantly improved patient outcome, many patients remain left out highlighting the need to identify additional immune target to enhance therapeutic immunity. Macrophages (MΦ) are an abundant and heterogeneous population in the tumor microenvironment (TME), and are associated with a poor prognosis in multiple tumor types, including HCC, however, their molecular and functional diversity is still poorly understood. We analyzed the molecular and spatial organization patterns of immune cells within the TME and adjacent tissue of 23 resected HCC lesions using single-cell RNA sequencing and multiplex immunohistochemistry (IHC). Strikingly, we found that Kupffer cells (KC), the self-renewing tissue-resident macrophages in liver tissue, are lacking from the TME, which is dominated by monocyte-derived macrophages. ScRNAseq followed by high-resolution clustering identified distinct MΦ molecular programs within the monocyte-derived macrophage compartment. One MΦ subset expressed a shared signature with monocytes including FCN1 and S100A8 in addition to T cell activation genes like CXCL9 and IL32. Conversely, one subset of MΦ expressed FOLR2, SEPP1 and genes of the complement (C1Qs), a program shared with KC in the adjacent uninvolved tissue, and include another intratumoral subset enriched for the expression of TREM2 and GPNMB. Guided by these results, we are developing an IHC antibody panel that allows to visualize distinct MΦ localization in the TME. Intratumoral MΦ interface with, and potentially regulate, the T cell compartment within the TME. We are analyzing HCC tumor lesions in our treatment-naïve cohort and in patients treated with neoadjuvant anti-PD-1 therapy (NCT03916627) to study direct interaction of MΦ and T cells using an innovative technology of physically-interacting cell sequencing (PICseq). This analysis enables us to identify MΦ with direct cell-cell contact with T cells, and our preliminary analysis demonstrates an enrichment in MΦ with a highly immunosuppressive phenotype. We are also using PICseq to map the molecular program of MΦ that are interacting with T cells and that we will corroborated with additional patients. Taken together, our data provide a new understanding of intratumoral MΦ diversity and highlight the presence of specific immunoregulatory MΦ programs unique to tumor lesions, with subsets of these MΦ found to be directly interacting with T cells, potentially modulating anti-tumor responsiveness. Our analysis of resected tumor from anti-PD-1 treated patients, will allow us to correlate MΦ programs, and direct T cell interaction, with clinical response, and will inform therapeutic trials targeting specific MΦ populations so as to improve clinical efficacy of cancer immunotherapy.

Citation Format: Pauline Hamon, Assaf Magen, Merav Cohen, Alexandra Tabachnikova, Christie Chang, Mark Buckup, Leanna Troncoso, Zhen Zhao, Joel Kim, Amir Giladi, Nausicaa Malissen, Fiona Desland, Jessica Le Berichel, Ido Amit, Ephraim Kenigsberg, Myron Schwartz, Thomas Marron, Miriam Merad. Characterization of molecular and spatial diversity of macrophages in hepatocellular carcinoma [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2021; 2021 Apr 10-15 and May 17-21. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2021;81(13_Suppl):Abstract nr 64.