Prognostic role of tumour-associated macrophages and regulatory T cells in EBV-positive and EBV-negative nasopharyngeal carcinoma

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Tumour-associated macrophages (TAMs) and regulatory T cells (Tregs) form a special niche supporting tumour progression, and both correlate with worse survival in head and neck cancers. However, the prognostic role of TAM and Tregs in nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is still unknown. Therefore, we determined differences in TAMs and Tregs in different NPC subtypes, and their prognostic significance.


Tissue of 91 NPCs was assessed for TAMs and Tregs by determination of CD68, CD163, CD206 and FOXP3 expression in the tumour microenvironment. Clinicopathological correlations were assessed using Pearson X2 test, Fisher’s exact test, analysis of variance and Mann-Whitney U test. Survival was analysed using Kaplan-Meier curves and Cox regression.


CD68 and FOXP3 counts were higher in Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-positive NPC, while CD68−/FOXP3−, CD163+/FOXP3− and CD206+/FOXP3− infiltrates were more common in EBV-negative NPC. In the whole NPC group, CD68−/FOXP3− correlated with worse overall survival (OS), and after multivariate analysis high FOXP3 count showed better OS (HR 0.352, 95% CI 0.128 to 0.968). No difference in M2 counts existed between EBV-positive and negative NPC.


FOXP3, a Treg marker, seems to be an independent prognostic factor for better OS in the whole NPC group. Therefore, immune-based therapies targeting Tregs should be carefully evaluated. M2 spectrum macrophages are probably more prominent in EBV-negative NPC with also functional differences compared with EBV-positive NPC.

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