Small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors modulated blood immune cell counts in patients with oncogene-driven NSCLC

Weijie Ma, Jie Zeng, Shuai Chen, Yue Lyu, Kyra A. Toomey, Chinh T. Phan, Ken Y. Yoneda, Tianhong Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Lack of biomarkers and in vitro models has contributed to inadequate understanding of the mechanisms underlying the inferior clinical response to immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) in patients with oncogene-driven non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Methods: The effect of small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) on peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in 34 patients with oncogene-driven NSCLC (cohort A) was compared with those from 35 NSCLC patients without oncogene-driven mutations received ICI (cohort B) or from 22 treatment-naïve NSCLC patients (cohort C). Data for each blood biomarker were summarized by mean and standard deviation and compared by Wilcoxon rank sum tests or Kruskal-Wallis tests with significance at 2-sided p value < 0.05. Co-culture of PBMCs and pleural effusion-derived tumor cells from individual patients with oncogene-driven NSCLC was used to determine the in vitro cytotoxicity of TKI and ICI. Results: Except for low CD3% in cohort A, there were no significant differences in other 12 blood biomarkers among the 3 cohorts at baseline. TKI treatment in cohort A was associated with significant increase in CD3% and decrease in total and absolute neutrophils (p < 0.05). In cohort B, patients with good clinical response to ICI treatment (N = 18) had significant increases in absolute lymphocyte counts (ALCs), CD4 and/or CD8 cell counts. Conversely, those patients with poor clinical response to ICI (N = 17) had significant decreases in these cell counts. Of the 27 patients with pre- and post-treatment blood samples in cohort A, 11 had poor clinical response to TKIs and decreased lymphocyte counts. Of the remaining 16 patients who had good clinical response to TKI therapy, 10 (62.5%) patients had decreased, and 6 (37.5%) patients had increased lymphocyte counts. Multicolor immunophenotyping of PBMCs revealed ICI treatment activated additional immune cell types that need further validation. We confirmed that TKI treatment could either antagonize or enhance the effect of ICIs in the co-culture assay using patient’s tumor cells and PBMCs. Conclusions: To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study showing that TKIs can have various effects on blood immune cells, which may affect their response to ICIs. Further validation of the blood biomarker and in vitro assay is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number69
JournalBiomarker Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Immune cells
  • In vitro cytotoxicity
  • Malignant pleural effusion
  • Oncogenic-driven
  • Peripheral blood mononuclear cells
  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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