The liquid biopsy of ascites fluid could be an excellent source of tumor and microenvironment for the study of prognostic biomarkers because of its accessibility. Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) can predict prognosis in multiple malignancies, including the response to immune checkpoint inhibitors, a breakthrough cancer therapy. However, TILs’ profiles from malignant ascites have not been extensively studied. Using flow cytometric analysis, we quantified the proportion of exhausted T cells and memory/naive/effector T-cell subsets, among the CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell populations of paired TILs and peripheral blood T cell samples (n = 22). The correlation between CD4+ and CD8+ subset profiles suggested that the combined analysis of CD4+ and CD8+ cells in malignant ascites was clinically significant. We found that cells positive for the exhaustion markers programmed cell death-1 (PD-1), and T-cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain 3 (TIM-3), and cells coexpressing PD-1 and TIM-3 abundantly exist among malignant ascites TILs. Furthermore, patients with high frequency of PD-1+ TIM-3+ cells among the CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell population showed worse clinical outcome in multivariate analysis (n = 27). We propose that exhausted ascites TILs represent a clinically significant prognostic biomarker in advanced gastrointestinal cancer and represent an important target for immune checkpoint inhibitors.
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