Comparative analysis of the molecular profile and tumor immune microenvironment (TIME) of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) low versus high expressing gastroesophageal cancers


Ali Alqahtani, Yasmine Baca, Joanne Xiu, Michael J. Hall, Dong Kim, Sanjay Goel, Reetu Mukherji, Chao Yin, Heinz-Josef Lenz, Francesca Battaglin, Hiroyuki Arai, Emil Lou, Anthony Frank Shields, Phillip Walker, Wolfgang Michael Korn, Jim Abraham, Matthew James Oberley, Richard M. Goldberg, John Marshall, Benjamin Adam Weinberg

Background: Addition of immune checkpoint blockade to anti-HER2 therapy has improved outcomes in HER2-positive GEC. Anti-HER2 antibody-drug conjugates have shown activity in some HER2-L tumors in other tumor types. We aimed to compare the molecular profile and TIME of HER2-L and HER-H GEC.

Methods: 8678 GEC (gastric, GE junction, and esophageal) adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma samples were analyzed by next-generation sequencing (NGS) of RNA (whole transcriptome, NovaSeq), DNA (592 genes, NextSeq, or whole exome sequencing, NovaSeq), and immunohistochemistry (IHC, Caris Life Sciences, Phoenix, AZ). Cohorts were stratified by IHC HER2 values of 0 (non-expressors), 1-2+ (HER2-L), or 3+ (HER2-H) and compared using X2 or Fisher-Exact. Statistical significance was determined as P-value adjusted for multiple comparisons (q < 0.05). Microenvironment cell population (MCP) counter was used to quantify immune cell infiltration.

Results: Tumor were grouped into HER2 non-expressors (N = 5217), L (N = 2660), and H (N = 801). Mutations of TP53 (72% vs 92%) and amplification of MYC (4% vs 7%), CCNE1 (7% vs 12%), CCND3 (2% vs 4%), CDK6 (3% vs 6%), SMARCE1 (2% vs 25%) and RARA (3% vs 24%) were significantly lower in HER2-L compared to HER2-H (q < 0.05). ARID1A (14% vs 9%), PIK3CA (8% vs 3%), KRAS (9% vs 2%), GNAS (2% vs 0.3%), KMT2D (6% vs 1%), CDH1 (5% vs 1%), and ATM (4% vs 1%) mutations were significantly higher in HER2-L compared to HER2-H (q < 0.05). HER2-L was associated with more TMB-H (9.3% vs. 5%; q<0.05), MSI-H (4.7% vs. 0.6%; q<0.05), and a trend towards higher PD-L1 expression than in HER2-H (80.8% vs 76.1%, p < 0.05 but q > 0.05). Immuno-oncology (IO)-related gene expression inversely correlated with HER2 expression with lowest expression of PDCD1LG2CD274CTLA4PDCD1HAVCR2CD80IFNGLAG3, and CD86 in HER2-H (q < 0.05). HER2-L had significantly higher median immune infiltration of B cells (fold change [FC]: 1.22), T cells (FC: 1.16), CD8+ T cells (FC: 1.56), NK cells (FC: 1.12), neutrophils (FC: 1.10), cytotoxic lymphocytes (FC: 1.36), and myeloid dendritic cells (FC: 1.34), compared to HER2-H (q < 0.05). HER2 non-expressors showed similar immune cell infiltrates compared to HER2-H. HER2-H was associated with lower T-cell inflamed scores and IFN gamma signature when compared to HER2-L and non-expressors (q < 0.05).

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this study is the first and largest comparison of molecular profile and TIME in HER2-expressing GEC. We demonstrated distinct molecular and TIME profiles with higher immunogenic profiles in HER-L as compared to HER2-H. IO-related gene expression and TIME cell distribution differences in HER2-H GEC suggest that response to IO and HER2 therapy combinations is likely related to HER2-targeted treatment effect on TIME rather than baseline immunogenicity of the tumor.

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