PD-1 inhibition results in durable antitumor responses in a proportion of patients with metastatic urothelial cancer (mUC). The majority of patients, however, do not experience clinical benefit. In this study, we aimed to identify early changes in T-cell subsets that underlie anti–PD-1 efficacy in patients with mUC.
Paired samples were collected from peripheral blood, plasma, and metastatic lesions of 56 patients with mUC at baseline and weeks 6 and 12 after initiating pembrolizumab treatment (200 mg intravenously, every 3 weeks). Samples were analyzed using multiplex flow cytometry, ELISA, and in situ stainings, including cellular network analysis. Treatment response was evaluated as best overall response according to RECIST v1.1, and patients were classified as responder (complete or partial response) or nonresponder (progressive disease).
In responders, baseline fractions of CD4+ T cells expressing cosignaling receptors were higher compared with nonresponders. The fraction of circulating PD-1+ CD4+ T cells decreased at weeks 6 and 12, whereas the fraction of 4-1BB+ CD28+ CD4+ T cells increased at week 12. In metastatic lesions of responders, the baseline density of T helper-type 1 (Th1) cells, defined as T-bet+ CD4+ T cells, was higher as compared to non-responders. Upon treatment, Th1 cells became localized in close proximity to CD8+ T cells, CD11b+ myeloid cells, and tumor cells.
A decrease in the fraction of circulating PD-1+ CD4+ T cells, and juxtaposition of Th1, CD8+, and myeloid cells was associated with response to anti–PD-1 treatment in patients with mUC.