Regulatory T cells (Tregs) exert immunosuppressive functions and hamper antitumor immune responses in the tumor microenvironment. Understanding the heterogeneity of intratumoral Tregs, and how it changes with tumor progression, will provide clues regarding novel target molecules of Treg-directed therapies.
From 42 patients with renal cell carcinoma and 5 patients with ovarian cancer, immune cells from tumor and peripheral blood were isolated. We performed multicolor flow cytometry and RNA-sequencing to characterize the phenotypes and heterogeneity of intratumoral Tregs. In vitro functional assays were performed to evaluate suppressive capacity of Tregs and effect of carcinoembryonic antigen-related cell adhesion molecule 1 (CEACAM1)-mediated depletion. The CT26 tumor model was used to evaluate the association between intratumoral Tregs and tumor growth, and examine the in vivo role of CEACAM1+ intratumoral Tregs on antitumor immunity.
We found that CEACAM1 was selectively expressed on intratumoral Tregs, whereas its expression on peripheral Tregs or other immune cells was low. The CEACAM1+ intratumoral Tregs accumulated with tumor progression, whereas the CEACAM1− subset did not. Notably, we found that CEACAM1 marked intratumoral Tregs that exhibited highly suppressive and activated phenotypes with substantial clonal expansion. Depletion of CEACAM1-expressing cells from tumor-infiltrating leukocytes led to increased effector functions of tumor-infiltrating T cells. Moreover, CEACAM1+ cell depletion further enhanced anti-PD-1–mediated reinvigoration of exhausted CD8+ T cells.
CEACAM1 marks highly suppressive subset of intratumoral Tregs, and can be a target for selective depletion of intratumoral Tregs. These results may inform future studies on CEACAM1-mediated depletion in patients with cancer.