We previously demonstrated that sex influences response to immune checkpoint inhibitors. In this article, we investigate sex-based differences in the molecular mechanisms of anticancer immune response and immune evasion in patients with NSCLC.
We analyzed (i) transcriptome data of 2,575 early-stage NSCLCs from seven different datasets; (ii) 327 tumor samples extensively characterized at the molecular level from the TRACERx lung study; (iii) two independent cohorts of 329 and 391 patients, respectively, with advanced NSCLC treated with anti–PD-1/anti–PD-L1 drugs.
As compared with men, the tumor microenvironment (TME) of women was significantly enriched for a number of innate and adaptive immune cell types, including specific T-cell subpopulations. NSCLCs of men and women exploited different mechanisms of immune evasion. The TME of females was characterized by significantly greater T-cell dysfunction status, higher expression of inhibitory immune checkpoint molecules, and higher abundance of immune-suppressive cells, including cancer-associated fibroblasts, MDSCs, and regulatory T cells. In contrast, the TME of males was significantly enriched for a T-cell–excluded phenotype. We reported data supporting impaired neoantigens presentation to immune system in tumors of men, as molecular mechanism explaining the findings observed. Finally, in line with our results, we showed significant sex-based differences in the association between TMB and outcome of patients with advanced NSCLC treated with anti–PD-1/PD-L1 drugs.
We demonstrated meaningful sex-based differences of anticancer immune response and immune evasion mechanisms, that may be exploited to improve immunotherapy efficacy for both women and men.