OBJECTIVES: Tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) are critically implicated in the clinical outcome and response to immunotherapy in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients. The functional competence of lymphocyte subpopulations is strongly conditioned by their spatial arrangement within the tumour immune microenvironment. The aim of this study was to determine whether the tissue localization of specific TIL subpopulations might have an impact on the risk of recurrence in surgically resected NSCLC. METHODS: High-speed scanning of whole slide images was performed on immunohistochemically stained tissue sections from 97 NSCLC patients to assess the number and ratio of CD3+, CD8+ and PD-1+ T-lymphocytes. TIL distribution was computed considering the intratumoural (proximal or distal) and peripheral (invasive margin) localization as well as their location within the fibrotic tissue (immune excluded). The tumour proliferative index was assessed by Ki67 labelling. The impact of TILs number and distribution on clinical-pathological characteristics and outcomes were statistically analysed. RESULTS: High density and percentage of proximal CD8+ TILs and low PD-1-to-CD8 ratio had a positive impact on disease-free-survival (P = 0.03) and overall survival (P = 0.003). An inverse correlation was observed between the abundance of intratumoural CD8+ TILs carrying PD-1 inhibitory receptor and cancer cell proliferation. Cases with high compared to low fraction of immune excluded CD8+ TILs had significantly reduced 5-year overall survival (n events: 22 vs 12; P = 0.04) and disease-free survival (n events: 24 vs 16; P = 0.03) rates while the amount of CD3+ and CD8+ TILs located at the invasive margin had a favourable effect on the clinical course. CONCLUSIONS: Mapping TIL subpopulations may implement the definition of prognostic parameters in surgically resected NSCLC.
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