Peripheral blood Th9 cells are a possible pharmacodynamic biomarker of nivolumab treatment efficacy in metastatic melanoma patients.

PMID 28123885


Although nivolumab is associated with a significant improvement in overall survival and progression-free survival, only 20 to 40% of patients experience long-term benefit. It is therefore of great interest to identify a predictive marker of clinical benefit for nivolumab. To address this issue, the frequencies of CD4(+) T cell subsets (Treg, Th1, Th2, Th9, Th17 and Th22), CD8(+) T cells, and serum cytokine levels (IFNγ, IL-4, IL-9, IL-10, TGF-β) were assessed in 46 patients with melanoma. Eighteen patients responded to nivolumab, and the other 28 patients did not. An early increase in Th9 cell counts during the treatment with nivolumab was associated with an improved clinical response. Before the first nivolumab infusion, the responders displayed elevated serum concentrations of TGF-β compared to non-responders. Th9 induction by IL-4 and TGF-β was enhanced by PD-1/PD-L1 blockade in vitro. The role of IL-9 in disease progression was further assessed using a murine melanoma model. In vivo IL-9 blockade promoted melanoma progression in mice using an autochthonous mouse melanoma model, and the cytotoxic ability of murine melanoma-specific CD8(+) T cells was enhanced in the presence of IL-9 in vitro. These findings suggest that Th9 cells, which produce IL-9, play an important role in the successful treatment of melanoma patients with nivolumab. Th9 cells therefore represent a valid biomarker to be further developed in the setting of anti-PD-1 therapy.