Defining HPV-specific B cell responses in patients with head and neck cancer

Andreas Wieland, Mihir R Patel, Maria A Cardenas, Christiane S Eberhardt, William H Hudson, Rebecca C Obeng, Christopher C Griffith, Xu Wang, Zhuo G Chen, Haydn T Kissick, Nabil F Saba, Rafi Ahmed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Tumours often contain B cells and plasma cells but the antigen specificity of these intratumoral B cells is not well understood1-8. Here we show that human papillomavirus (HPV)-specific B cell responses are detectable in samples from patients with HPV-positive head and neck cancers, with active production of HPV-specific IgG antibodies in situ. HPV-specific antibody secreting cells (ASCs) were present in the tumour microenvironment, with minimal bystander recruitment of influenza-specific cells, suggesting a localized and antigen-specific ASC response. HPV-specific ASC responses correlated with titres of plasma IgG and were directed against the HPV proteins E2, E6 and E7, with the most dominant response against E2. Using intratumoral B cells and plasma cells, we generated several HPV-specific human monoclonal antibodies, which exhibited a high degree of somatic hypermutation, consistent with chronic antigen exposure. Single-cell RNA sequencing analyses detected activated B cells, germinal centre B cells and ASCs within the tumour microenvironment. Compared with the tumour parenchyma, B cells and ASCs were preferentially localized in the tumour stroma, with well-formed clusters of activated B cells indicating ongoing germinal centre reactions. Overall, we show that antigen-specific activated and germinal centre B cells as well as plasma cells can be found in the tumour microenvironment. Our findings provide a better understanding of humoral immune responses in human cancer and suggest that tumour-infiltrating B cells could be harnessed for the development of therapeutic agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateE-pub ahead of print - Nov 18 2020


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