BACKGROUND: Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common primary malignant brain cancer in adults, with very limited therapeutic options. It is characterized by a severe immunosuppressive milieu mostly triggered by suppressive CD163+ tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs). The efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitor interventions aimed at rescuing anti-tumor immunity has not been proved to date. Thus, it is critically important to investigate the immunomodulatory mechanisms acting within the GBM microenvironment for the better design of immunotherapeutic strategies.
METHODS: The immunohistochemical analysis of a panel of immune biomarkers (CD3, FoxP3, CD163, IDO, PDL-1, PD-1 and TIGIT) was performed in paired samples of the tumor core (TC) and peritumoral area (PTA) of nine GBM patients.
RESULTS: CD163+ cells were the most common cell type in both the PTA and TC. IDO and PDL-1 were expressed in most of the TC samples, frequently accompanied by TIGIT expression; on the contrary, they were almost absent in the PTA. CD3+ cells were present in both the TC and PTA, to a lesser extent than CD163+ cells; they often were accompanied by PD-1 expression, especially in the TC. FoxP3 was scarcely present.
CONCLUSION: Distinct inhibitory mechanisms can act simultaneously in both the TC and PTA to contribute to the strong immunosuppression observed within the GBM microenvironment. Nevertheless, the PTA shows strongly reduced immunosuppression when compared to the TC, thus representing a potential target for immunotherapies. Moreover, our results support the working hypothesis that immunosuppression and T-cell exhaustion can be simultaneously targeted to rescue anti-tumor immunity in GBM patients.