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Comprehensive analysis of tumor necrosis factor receptor TNFRSF9 (4-1BB) DNA methylation with regard to molecular and clinicopathological features, immune infiltrates, and response prediction to immunotherapy in melanoma

: Fröhlich, A.; Loick, S.; Bawden, E.G.; Fietz, S.; Dietrich, J.; Diekmann, E.; Saavedra, G.; Fröhlich, H.; Niebel, D.; Sirokay, J.; Zarbl, R.; Gielen, G.H.; Kristiansen, G.; Bootz, F.; Landsberg, J.; Dietrich, D.

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Erstellt am: 16.4.2020

EBioMedicine 52 (2020), Art. 102647, 14 S.
ISSN: 2352-3964
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG
Cluster of Excellence ImmunoSensation; EXC 1023
Zeitschriftenaufsatz, Elektronische Publikation
Fraunhofer SCAI ()

Immunotherapy, including checkpoint inhibition, has remarkably improved prognosis in advanced melanoma. Despite this success, acquired resistance is still a major challenge. The T cell costimulatory receptor TNFRSF9 (also known as 4-1BB and CD137) is a promising new target for immunotherapy and two agonistic antibodies are currently tested in clinical trials. However, little is known about epigenetic regulation of the encoding gene. In this study we investigate a possible correlation of TNFRSF9 DNA methylation with gene expression, clinicopathological parameters, molecular and immune correlates, and response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy to assess the validity of TNFRSF9 methylation to serve as a biomarker.
We performed a correlation analyses of methylation at twelve CpG sites within TNFRSF9 with regard to transcriptional activity, immune cell infiltration, mutation status, and survival in a cohort of N = 470 melanoma patients obtained from The Cancer Genome Atlas. Furthermore, we used quantitative methylation-specific PCR to confirm correlations in a cohort of N = 115 melanoma patients’ samples (UHB validation cohort). Finally, we tested the ability of TNFRSF9 methylation and expression to predict progression-free survival (PFS) and response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy in a cohort comprised of N = 121 patients (mRNA transcription), (mRNA ICB cohort) and a case-control study including N = 48 patients (DNA methylation, UHB ICB cohort).
We found a significant inverse correlation between TNFRSF9 DNA methylation and mRNA expression levels at six of twelve analyzed CpG sites (P ≤ 0.005), predominately located in the promoter flank region. Consistent with its role as costimulatory receptor in immune cells, TNFRSF9 mRNA expression and hypomethylation positively correlated with immune cell infiltrates and an interferon-γ signature. Furthermore, elevated TNFRSF9 mRNA expression and TNFRSF9 hypomethylation correlated with superior overall survival. In patients receiving anti-PD-1 immunotherapy (mRNA ICB cohort), we found that TNFRSF9 hypermethylation and reduced mRNA expression correlated with poor PFS and response.
Our study suggests that TNFRSF9 mRNA expression is regulated via DNA methylation. The observed correlations between TNFRSF9 DNA methylation or mRNA expression with known features of response to immune checkpoint blockage suggest TNFRSF9 methylation could serve as a biomarker in the context of immunotherapies. Concordantly, we identified a correlation between TNFRSF9 DNA methylation and mRNA expression with disease progression in patients under immunotherapy. Our study provides rationale for further investigating TNFRSF9 DNA methylation as a predictive biomarker for response to immunotherapy.
AF was partly funded by the Mildred Scheel Foundation. SF received funding from the University Hospital Bonn BONFOR program (O-105.0069). DN was funded in part by DFG Cluster of Excellence ImmunoSensation (EXC 1023). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, interpretation, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript; or any aspect pertinent to the study.