Transcriptomic profiling of tumor-infiltrating CD4+ TIM-3+ T cells reveals their suppressive, exhausted, and metastatic characteristics in colorectal cancer patients

Varun Sasidharan Nair, Salman M. Toor, Rowaida Z. Taha, Ayman A. Ahmed, Mohamed A. Kurer, Khaled Murshed, Madiha E. Soofi, Khalid Ouararhni, Nehad M. Alajez, Mohamed Abu Nada, Eyad Elkord

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


T cell immunoglobulin mucin-3 (TIM-3) is an immune checkpoint identified as one of the key players in regulating T-cell responses. Studies have shown that TIM-3 is upregulated in the tumor microenvironment (TME). However, the precise role of TIM-3 in colorectal cancer (CRC) TME is yet to be elucidated. We performed phenotypic and molecular characterization of TIM-3+ T cells in the TME and circulation of CRC patients by analyzing tumor tissues (TT, TILs), normal tissues (NT, NILs), and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). TIM-3 was upregulated on both CD4+ and CD3+CD4 (CD8+) TILs. CD4+TIM-3+ TILs expressed higher levels of T regulatory cell (Tregs)- signature genes, including FoxP3 and Helios, compared with their TIM-3 counterparts. Transcriptomic and ingenuity pathway analyses showed that TIM-3 potentially activates inflammatory and tumor metastatic pathways. Moreover, NF-κB-mediated transcription factors were upregulated in CD4+TIM-3+ TILs, which could favor proliferation/invasion and induce inflammatory and T-cell exhaustion pathways. In addition, we found that CD4+TIM-3+ TILs potentially support tumor invasion and metastasis, compared with conventional CD4+CD25+ Tregs in the CRC TME. However, functional studies are warranted to support these findings. In conclusion, this study discloses some of the functional pathways of TIM-3+ TILs, which could improve their targeting in more specific therapeutic approaches in CRC patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number71
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020



  • Colorectal cancer
  • Exhausted T cells
  • Metastasis
  • T cell immunoglobulin mucin-3
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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