ARTICLE ABSTRACTUveal melanoma progression can be predicted by gene expression profiles enabling a clear subdivision between tumors with a good (class I) and a poor (class II) prognosis. Poor prognosis uveal melanoma can be subdivided by expression of immune-related genes; however, it is unclear whether this subclassification is justified; therefore, T cells in uveal melanoma specimens were quantified using a digital PCR approach. Absolute T-cell quantification revealed that T-cell influx is present in all uveal melanomas associated with a poor prognosis. However, this infiltrate is only accompanied by differential immune-related gene expression profiles in uveal melanoma with the highest T-cell infiltrate. Molecular deconvolution of the immune profile revealed that a large proportion of the T-cell–related gene expression signature does not originate from lymphocytes but is derived from other immune cells, especially macrophages. Expression of the lymphocyte-homing chemokine CXCL10 by activated macrophages correlated with T-cell infiltration and thereby explains the correlation of T-cell numbers and macrophages. This was validated by in situ analysis of CXCL10 in uveal melanoma tissue with high T-cell counts. Surprisingly, CXCL10 or any of the other genes in the activated macrophage-cluster was correlated with reduced survival due to uveal melanoma metastasis. This effect was independent of the T-cell infiltrate, which reveals a role for activated macrophages in metastasis formation independent of their role in tumor inflammation.
The current report uses an innovative digital PCR method to study the immune environment and demonstrates that absolute T-cell quantification and expression profiles can dissect disparate immune components.