Inhibition of immune checkpoint proteins like programmed death 1 (PD-1) is a promising therapeutic approach for several cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Although PD-1 ligand (PD-L1) expression is used to predict anti-PD-1 therapy responses in NSCLC, its accuracy is relatively less. Therefore, we sought to identify a more accurate predictive blood biomarker for evaluating anti-PD-1 response. We evaluated the frequencies of T cells, B cells, natural killer (NK) cells, polymorphonuclear myeloid-derived suppressor cells (PMN-MDSCs), mononuclear myeloid-derived suppressor cells (M-MDSCs), and Lox-1+ PMN-MDSCs in peripheral blood samples of 62 NSCLC patients before and after nivolumab treatment. Correlation of immune-cell population frequencies with treatment response, progression-free survival, and overall survival was also determined. After the first treatment, the median NK cell percentage was significantly higher in responders than in non-responders, while the median Lox-1+ PMN-MDSC percentage showed the opposite trend. NK cell frequencies significantly increased in responders but not in non-responders. NK cell frequency inversely correlated with that of Lox-1+ PMN-MDSCs after the first treatment cycle. The NK cell-to-Lox-1+ PMN-MDSC ratio (NMR) was significantly higher in responders than in non-responders. Patients with NMRs ≥ 5.75 after the first cycle had significantly higher objective response rates and longer progression-free and overall survival than those with NMRs <5.75. NMR shows promise as an early predictor of response to further anti-PD-1 therapy.
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