Genetic diversity of tumors with mismatch repair deficiency influences anti–PD-1 immunotherapy response

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Science  03 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6439, pp. 485-491
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau0447

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High mutational load gets a response

Cancers harbor many genetic mutations. Defects in DNA mismatch repair prevent tumors from repairing certain types of DNA damage and lead to a hypermutable genomic state known as microsatellite instability (MSI). Some tumors with a high degree of MSI may be treatable with PD-1 (programmed cell death–1) immunotherapy, but patient response is highly variable. Mandal et al. studied drivers of differential response to immunotherapy in these patients and found that MSI intensity and insertion-deletion mutations strongly affected therapeutic outcome.

Science, this issue p. 485


Tumors with mismatch repair deficiency (MMR-d) are characterized by sequence alterations in microsatellites and can accumulate thousands of mutations. This high mutational burden renders tumors immunogenic and sensitive to programmed cell death–1 (PD-1) immune checkpoint inhibitors. Yet, despite their tumor immunogenicity, patients with MMR-deficient tumors experience highly variable responses, and roughly half are refractory to treatment. We present experimental and clinical evidence showing that the degree of microsatellite instability (MSI) and resultant mutational load, in part, underlies the variable response to PD-1 blockade immunotherapy in MMR-d human and mouse tumors. The extent of response is particularly associated with the accumulation of insertion-deletion (indel) mutational load. This study provides a rationale for the genome-wide characterization of MSI intensity and mutational load to better profile responses to anti–PD-1 immunotherapy across MMR-deficient human cancers.

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