OBJECTIVE: Reflux promotes esophageal adenocarcinomas (EACs) creating a chronic inflammatory environment. Survival rates are low due to early local recurrences and distant metastasis. Hence, there is a need for new potential treatment options like immunotherapies. However, the inflammatory microenvironment in EACs and its impact on patient outcome remain to be fully understood.
METHODS: mRNA expression levels of pro- and anti-inflammatory markers in 39 EAC patients without neoadjuvant radio-chemotherapy were measured. Data were confirmed using flow cytometric analysis of freshly resected surgical specimens. Inflammatory alterations in premalignant lesions of Barrett's esophagus were analyzed by immunohistochemistry.
RESULTS: Expression levels of IL22 were reduced in EAC, while expression levels of FOXP3, IL10 and CTLA4 were increased. Flow cytometry demonstrated a strong infiltration of CD4+ T cells with a reduction in CD4+ T cells producing IL-22 or IL-17A. We also observed an increase in CD4+CD127lowFOXP3+ cells producing IL-10. Accumulation of FOXP3+ T cells occurred prior to malignant changes. High expression of IL10 and low expression of IL22 in EAC were associated with reduced overall survival. Moreover, increased expression of IL10, CTLA4 and PD1 in the unaltered esophageal mucosa distant to the EAC was also linked with an unfavorable prognosis.
CONCLUSION: EAC shows an anti-inflammatory environment, which strongly affects patient survival. The microscopically unaltered peritumoral tissue shows a similar anti-inflammatory pattern indicating an immunological field effect, which might contribute to early local recurrences despite radical resection. These data suggest that using checkpoint inhibitors targeting anti-inflammatory T cells would be a promising therapeutic strategy in EAC.