Dissecting the inflammatory tumor microenvironment of esophageal adenocarcinoma: mast cells and natural killer cells are favorable prognostic factors and associated with less extensive disease.

Journal of cancer research and clinical oncology(2023)

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PURPOSE:Esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) remains a challenging and lethal cancer entity. A promising target for new therapeutic approaches, as demonstrated by the success of immune checkpoint inhibitors, are tumor-associated immune cells and the tumor microenvironment (TME). However, the understanding of the TME in esophageal cancer remains limited and requires further investigation. METHODS:Over 900 EAC samples were included, including patients treated with primary surgery and neoadjuvant (radio-)chemotherapy. The immune cell infiltrates of mast cells (MC), natural killer cells (NK cells), plasma cells (PC), and eosinophilic cells (EC) were assessed semi-quantitatively and correlated with histopathological parameters and overall survival (OS). RESULTS:A high presence of all four immune cell types significantly correlated with a less extensive tumor stage and a lower frequency of lymph node metastasis, and, in case of NK cells, with less distant metastasis. The presence of MC and NK cells was favorably associated with a prolonged OS in the total cohort (MC: p < 0.001; NK cells: p = 0.004) and patients without neoadjuvant treatment (MC: p < 0.001; NK cells: p = 0.01). NK cells were a favorable prognostic factor in the total cohort (p = 0.007) and in the treatment-naïve subgroup (p = 0.04). Additionally, MC were a favorable prognostic factor in patients with lymph node metastasis (p = 0.009). CONCLUSION:Our results indicate a complex and important role of mast cells, NK cells, and the other assessed immune cells in the tumor microenvironment of EAC. Therefore, they are one further step to a better understanding of the immune cell environment and the potential therapeutic implications in this cancer entity.
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