Immune suppression by CD4+FOXP3+ regulatory T (Treg) cells and tumor infiltration by CD8+ effector T cells represent two major factors impacting response to cancer immunotherapy. Using deconvolution-based transcriptional profiling of human HPV-negative oral squamous cell carcinomas (OSCCs) and other solid cancers, we demonstrated that the density of Treg cells does not correlate with that of CD8+ T cells in many tumors, revealing polarized clusters enriched for either CD8+ T cells or CD4+ Treg and conventional T cells. In a mouse model of carcinogen-induced OSCC characterized by CD4+ T cell enrichment, late-stage Treg cell ablation triggered increased densities of both CD4+ and CD8+ effector T cells within oral lesions. Notably, this intervention did not induce tumor regression, but instead induced rapid emergence of invasive OSCCs via an effector T cell-dependent process. Thus, induction of a T cell-inflamed phenotype via therapeutic manipulation of Treg cells may trigger unexpected tumor-promoting effects in OSCC.



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