High numbers of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) are linked to better survival in patients with cancer. Tissue-resident memory T cells (TRM; CD8+CD103+) are recognized as a key player of anticancer immune response. To assess TRM cells in primary, metastatic, and recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), we developed a tissue microarray (TMA) and used multiplex IHC (MxIHC).

Experimental Design:

Samples from primary tumors of 379 HNSCC cases treated at Southampton Hospitals between 2000 and 2016 were collected and analyzed. Of these, 105 cases had lymph node metastases and 82 recurrences. A TMA was generated with triplicate cores for each sample. MxIHC with a stain-and-strip approach was performed using CD8, CD103, and TIM3. Scanned slides were analyzed (digital image analysis) and quality checked (QC).


After QC, 194 primary tumors, 76 lymph node metastases, and 65 recurrences were evaluable. Alcohol consumption was statistically significantly correlated with a reduction of TRM cells in primary tumors (nondrinker vs. heavy drinker: P = 0.0036). The known survival benefit of TRM cell infiltration in primary tumors was not found for lymph node metastasis. In recurrences, a high TRM cell number led to a favorable outcome after 12 months. The checkpoint molecule TIM3, was expressed significantly higher on TRM and non-TRM cells in the lymph node compared with primary tumors (P < 0.0001), which was also seen in recurrences (P = 0.0134 and P = 0.0007, respectively).


We confirm the prognostic impact of TIL in primary tumors and in recurrences. TRM cell density in lymph node metastases was not linked to outcome. The role of TIM3, as a therapeutic target remains to be defined.

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