Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) has a poor clinical outcome despite the presence of a rich CD8+ T cell tumor infiltrate in the majority of patients. This may be due to alterations of tumor infiltrating CD8+ T cells. Here, we performed a characterization of HNSCC infiltrating CD8+ T cells in a cohort of 30 patients. The results showed that differential intratumoral frequency of CD8+CD28+ T cells, CD8+CD28-T cells, and CD8+CD28-CD127-CD39+ Treg distinguished between HNSCC patients who did or did not respond to treatment. Moreover, high PD1 expression identified a CD8+CD28− T cell subpopulation, phenotypically/functionally corresponding to CD8+CD28−CD127−CD39+ Treg, which showed a high expression of markers of exhaustion. This observation suggests that development of exhaustion and acquisition of regulatory properties may configure the late differentiation stage for intratumoral effector T cells, a phenomenon we define as effector‐to‐regulatory T cell transition.
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