Tumor-infiltrating leukocytes (TILs) are immune cells surrounding tumor cells, and several studies have shown that TILs are potential survival predictors in different cancers. However, few studies have dissected the differences between hepatitis B- and hepatitis C-related hepatocellular carcinoma (HBV-HCC and HCV-HCC). Therefore, we aimed to determine whether the abundance and composition of TILs are potential predictors for survival outcomes in HCC and which TILs are the most significant predictors.
Two bioinformatics algorithms, ESTIMATE and CIBERSORT, were utilized to analyze the gene expression profiles from 6 datasets, from which the abundance of corresponding TILs was inferred. The ESTIMATE algorithm examined the overall abundance of TILs, whereas the CIBERSORT algorithm reported the relative abundance of 22 different TILs. Both HBV-HCC and HCV-HCC were analyzed.
The results indicated that the total abundance of TILs was higher in non-tumor tissue regardless of the HCC type. Alternatively, the specific TILs associated with overall survival (OS) and recurrence-free survival (RFS) varied between subtypes. For example, in HBV-HCC, plasma cells (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.05; 95% CI 1.00-1.10; p = 0.034) and activated dendritic cells (HR = 1.08; 95% CI 1.01-1.17; p = 0.03) were significantly associated with OS, whereas in HCV-HCC, monocytes (HR = 1.21) were significantly associated with OS. Furthermore, for RFS, CD8+ T cells (HR = 0.98) and M0 macrophages (HR = 1.02) were potential biomarkers in HBV-HCC, whereas neutrophils (HR = 1.01) were an independent predictor in HCV-HCC. Lastly, in both HBV-HCC and HCV-HCC, CD8+ T cells (HR = 0.97) and activated dendritic cells (HR = 1.09) had a significant association with OS, while γ delta T cells (HR = 1.04), monocytes (HR = 1.05), M0 macrophages (HR = 1.04), M1 macrophages (HR = 1.02), and activated dendritic cells (HR = 1.15) were highly associated with RFS.
Conclusions: These findings demonstrated that TILs are potential survival predictors in HCC and different kinds of TILs are observed according to the virus type. Therefore, further investigations are warranted to elucidate the role of TILs in HCC, which may improve immunotherapy outcomes.