Virus-specific memory T cell responses unmasked by immune checkpoint blockade cause hepatitis
Treatment of advanced melanoma with combined PD-1/CTLA-4 blockade commonly causes serious immune-mediated complications. Here, we identify a subset of patients predisposed to immune checkpoint blockade-related hepatitis who are distinguished by chronic expansion of effector memory CD4+ T cells (TEM cells). Pre-therapy CD4+ TEM cell expansion occurs primarily during autumn or winter in patients with metastatic disease and high cytomegalovirus (CMV)-specific serum antibody titres. These clinical features implicate metastasis-dependent, compartmentalised CMV reactivation as the cause of CD4+ TEM expansion. Pre-therapy CD4+ TEM expansion predicts hepatitis in CMV-seropositive patients, opening possibilities for avoidance or prevention. 3 of 4 patients with pre-treatment CD4+ TEM expansion who received αPD-1 monotherapy instead of αPD-1/αCTLA-4 therapy remained hepatitis-free. 4 of 4 patients with baseline CD4+ TEM expansion given prophylactic valganciclovir and αPD-1/αCTLA-4 therapy remained hepatitis-free. Our findings exemplify how pathogen exposure can shape clinical reactions after cancer therapy and how this insight leads to therapeutic innovations.