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Transcriptional immunogenomic analysis reveals distinct immunological clusters in paediatric nervous system tumours

Background: Cancer immunotherapies including immune checkpoint inhibitors and Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy have shown variable response rates in paediatric patients highlighting the need to establish robust biomarkers for patient selection. While the tumour microenvironment in adults has been widely studied to delineate determinants of immune response, the immune composition of paediatric solid tumours remains relatively uncharacterized calling for investigations to identify potential immune biomarkers.

Methods: To inform immunotherapy approaches in paediatric cancers with embryonal origin, we performed an immunogenomic analysis of RNA-seq data from 925 treatment-naïve paediatric nervous system tumours (pedNST) spanning 12 cancer types from three publicly available data sets.

Results: Within pedNST, we uncovered four broad immune clusters: Paediatric Inflamed (10%), Myeloid Predominant (30%), Immune Neutral (43%) and Immune Desert (17%). We validated these clusters using immunohistochemistry, methylation immune inference and segmentation analysis of tissue images. We report shared biology of these immune clusters within and across cancer types, and characterization of specific immune cell frequencies as well as T- and B-cell repertoires. We found no associations between immune infiltration levels and tumour mutational burden, although molecular cancer entities were enriched within specific immune clusters.

Conclusions: Given the heterogeneity of immune infiltration within pedNST, our findings suggest personalized immunogenomic profiling is needed to guide selection of immunotherapeutic strategies.

Keywords: CNS tumours; Immunogenomics; Neuroblastoma; Paediatric neuro-oncology; Tumour microenvironment.

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