Characterization of the oral microbiota profile through various studies has shown an association between the microbiome and oral cancer; however, stage-specific determinants of dynamic changes in microbial communities of oral cancer remain elusive. Additionally, the influence of the intratumoral microbiota on the intratumoral immune system remains largely unexplored. Therefore, this study aims to stratify microbial abundance in the early-onset and subsequent stages of oral cancer and analyze their influence on clinical-pathological and immunological features. The microbiome composition of tissue biopsy samples was identified using 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing, while intratumoral and systemic immune profiling was done with flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry-based analysis. The bacterial composition differed significantly among precancer, early cancer, and late cancer stages with the enrichment of genera Capnocytophaga, Fusobacterium, and Treponema in the cancer group, while Streptococcus and Rothia were enriched in the precancer group.
Late cancer stages were significantly associated with Capnocytophagawith high predicting accuracy, while Fusobacterium was associated with early stages of cancer. A dense intermicrobial and microbiome-immune network was observed in the precancer group. At the cellular level, intratumoral immune cell infiltration of B cells and T cells (CD4+ and CD8+) was observed with enrichment of the effector memory phenotype. Naive and effector subsets of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) and related gene expression were found to be distinctly associated with bacterial communities; most importantly, highly abundant bacterial genera of the tumor microenvironment were either negatively correlated or not associated with the effector lymphocytes, which led to the conclusion that the tumor microenvironment favors an immunosuppressive and nonimmunogenic microbiota. IMPORTANCE The gut microbiome has been explored extensively for its importance in the modulation of systemic inflammation and immune response; in contrast, the intratumoral microbiome is less studied for its influence on immunity in cancer. Given the established correlation between intratumoral lymphocyte infiltration and patient survival in cases of solid tumors, it was pertinent to explore the extrinsic factor influencing immune cell infiltration in the tumor. Modulation of intratumoral microbiota could have a beneficial effect on the antitumor immune response. This study stratifies the microbial profile of oral squamous cell carcinoma starting from precancer to late-stage cancer and provides evidence for their immunomodulatory role in the tumor microenvironment. Our results suggest combining microbiome study with immunological signatures of tumors for their prognostic and diagnostic
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