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Baseline T cell dysfunction by single cell network profiling in metastatic breast cancer patients



We previously reported the results of a multicentric prospective randomized trial of chemo-refractory metastatic breast cancer patients testing the efficacy of two doses of TGFβ blockade during radiotherapy. Despite a lack of objective responses to the combination, patients who received a higher dose of TGFβ blocking antibody fresolimumab had a better overall survival when compared to those assigned to lower dose (hazard ratio of 2.73, p = 0.039). They also demonstrated an improved peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) counts and increase in the CD8 central memory pool. We performed additional analysis on residual PBMC using single cell network profiling (SCNP).


The original trial randomized metastatic breast cancer patients to either 1 or 10 mg/kg of fresolimumab, every 3 weeks for 5 cycles, combined with radiotherapy to a metastatic site at week 1 and 7 (22.5 Gy given in 3 doses of 7.5 Gy). Trial immune monitoring results were previously reported. In 15 patients with available residual blood samples, additional functional studies were performed, and compared with data obtained in parallel from seven healthy female donors (HD): SCNP was applied to analyze T cell receptor (TCR) modulated signaling via CD3 and CD28 crosslinking and measurement of evoked phosphorylation of AKT and ERK in CD4 and CD8 T cell subsets defined by PD-1 expression.


At baseline, a significantly higher level of expression (p < 0.05) of PD-L1 was identified in patient monocytes compared to HD. TCR modulation revealed dysfunction of circulating T-cells in patient baseline samples as compared to HD, and this was more pronounced in PD-1+ cells. Treatment with radiotherapy and fresolimumab did not resolve this dyfunctional signaling. However, in vitro PD-1 blockade enhanced TCR signaling in patient PD-1+ T cells and not in PD-1- T cells or in PD-1+ T cells from HD.


Functional T cell analysis suggests that baseline T cell functionality is hampered in metastatic breast cancer patients, at least in part mediated by the PD-1 signaling pathway. These preliminary data support the rationale for investigating the possible beneficial effects of adding PD-1 blockade to improve responses to TGFβ blockade and radiotherapy.

Trial registration

NCT01401062 .

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