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Immune Landscape of Viral- and Carcinogen-Driven Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) arises through exposure to environmental carcinogens or malignant transformation by human papillomavirus (HPV). Here, we assessed the transcriptional profiles of 131,224 single cells from peripheral and intra-tumoral immune populations from patients with HPV– and HPV+ HNSCC and healthy donors. Immune cells within tumors of HPV– and HPV+ HNSCC displayed a spectrum of transcriptional signatures, with helper CD4+ T cells and B cells being relatively divergent and CD8+ T cells and CD4+ regulatory T cells being relatively similar. Transcriptional results were contextualized through multispectral immunofluorescence analyses and evaluating putative cell-cell communication based on spatial proximity. These analyses defined a gene expression signature associated with CD4+ T follicular helper cells that is associated with longer progression-free survival in HNSCC patients. The datasets and analytical approaches herein provide a resource for the further study of the impact of immune cells on viral- and carcinogen-induced cancers.