Background: Immune checkpoint inhibitors that target the programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) receptor induce a response in only a subgroup of patients with metastatic melanoma. Previous research suggests that transforming growth factor beta signaling and a collagen-rich peritumoral stroma (tumor fibrosis), may negatively interfere with the interaction between T cells and tumor cells and thereby contribute to resistance mechanisms by immune-exclusion, while increased tumor infiltration of M1-like macrophages enhances T cell activity. Hence, the current study aimed to assess the relationship between blood-based markers of collagen or vimentin turnover (reflecting M1 macrophage activity) and clinical outcome in patients with metastatic melanoma after PD-1 inhibition.

Methods: Patients with metastatic melanoma who were treated with anti-PD-1 monotherapy between May 2016 and March 2019 were included in a prospective observational study. N-terminal pro-peptide of type III collagen (PRO-C3) cross-linked N-terminal pro-peptides of type III collagen (PC3X), matrix metalloprotease (MMP)-degraded type III (C3M) and type IV collagen (C4M), granzyme B-degraded type IV collagen and citrullinated and MMP-degraded vimentin (VICM) were measured with immunoassays in serum before (n=107), and 6 weeks after the first administration of immunotherapy (n=94). The association between biomarker levels and overall survival (OS) or progression-free survival (PFS) was assessed.

Results: Multivariate Cox regression analysis identified high baseline PRO-C3 (Q4) and PC3X (Q4) as independent variables of worse PFS (PRO-C3:

Conclusions: Blood-based biomarkers reflecting excessive type III collagen turnover were associated with worse OS and PFS after PD-1 inhibition in metastatic melanoma. Moreover, an increase in VICM levels after 6 weeks of treatment was associated with improved OS. These findings suggest that type III collagen and vimentin turnover contribute to resistance/response mechanisms of PD-1 inhibitors and hold promise of assessing extracellular matrix-derived and stroma-derived components to predict immunotherapy response.

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