Evaluation of Immunoregulatory Biomarkers on Plasma Small Extracellular Vesicles for Disease Progression and Early Therapeutic Response in Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancers (HNCs) have highly immunosuppressive properties. Small extracellular vesicles (sEVs), including exosomes, nanosized mediators of intercellular communication in the blood, carry immunosuppressive proteins and effectively inhibit anti-tumor immune responses in HNCs. This study evaluates immunosuppressive markers on sEVs from 40 HNC patients at different disease stages and 3- and 6-month follow-up after surgery and/or chemoradiotherapy. As controls, sEVs from normal donors (NDs) are examined. Immunoregulatory surface markers on sEVs were detected as relative fluorescence intensity (RFI) using on-bead flow cytometry, and their expression levels were monitored in the early and late stages of HNC and during follow-up. In parallel, the sEV-mediated apoptosis of CD8+ Jurkat cells was assessed. Together with TGF-β1 and PD-L1 abundance, total sEV proteins are elevated with disease progression. In contrast, total sEV protein, including TGF-β1, PD-1 and PD-L1, decrease upon therapy response during follow-up. Overall survival analysis implies that high sEV PD-1/PD-L1 content is an unfavorable prognostic marker in HNC. Consistently, the sEV-mediated induction of apoptosis in CD8+ T cells correlates with the disease activity and therapy response. These findings indicate that a combination of immunoregulatory marker profiles should be preferred over a single marker to monitor disease progression and therapy response in HNC.


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