(1) Background: The role of rare immune cell subtypes in many solid tumors, chief among them head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), has not been well defined. The objective of this study was to assess the association between proportions of common and rare immune cell subtypes and survival outcomes in HNSCC. (2) Methods: In this cohort study, we utilized a deconvolution approach based on the CIBERSORT algorithm and the LM22 signature matrix to infer proportions of immune cell subtypes from 517 patients with untreated HPV-negative HNSCC from The Cancer Genome Atlas. We performed univariate and multivariable survival analysis, integrating immune cell proportions with clinical, pathologic, and genomic data. (3) Results: We reliably deconvolved 22 immune cell subtypes in most patients and found that the most common immune cell types were M0 macrophages, M2 macrophages, and memory resting CD4 T cells. In the multivariable analysis, we identified advanced N stage and the presence of γδ T cells as independently predictive of poorer survival. (4) Conclusions: We uncovered that γδ T cells in the tumor microenvironment were a negative predictor of survival among patients with untreated HNSCC. Our findings underscore the need to better understand the role of γδ T cells in HNSCC, including potential pro-tumorigenic mechanisms, and whether their presence may predict the need for alternative therapy approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4855
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • deconvolution
  • gamma−delta T cells
  • head and neck squamous cell carcinoma
  • immune microenvironment
  • survival


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