Immunotherapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors is associated with immune-related adverse events (irAEs). A positive correlation between treatment efficacy and irAEs has been reported. Clinical indicators are required for appropriate interventions, such as steroid administration, to prevent fatal outcomes. Nuclear receptor transcription factor 4a (Nr4a), which is involved in T-cell anergy, exhaustion, and regulatory T cells, were observed not only in thymocytes but in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. We describe a case of Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) that was induced by a single dose of pembrolizumab and successfully treated with steroids, leading to complete remission of lung cancer during the monitoring of immune response indices, including Nr4a1 mRNA.
A 68-year-old male with squamous cell lung cancer (cT2aN3M0, stage IIIb) received a single dose of pembrolizumab (200 mg). On Day 21 of treatment, SJS appeared, and the patient was treated with prednisolone 60 mg/day, which was gradually tapered off. After the disappearance of the SJS symptoms, complete remission of cancer was achieved and was maintained for more than 1 year. Acute increases in the plasma IFN-γ and IL-17 concentrations and a decrease in IL-10 concentrations were observed at the onset of SJS. Simple regression analysis showed that these changes in IL-17, IFN-γ and IL-10 were significantly influenced by the decreased expression of Nr4a1 mRNA. The pembrolizumab levels and prednisolone doses significantly influenced the suppression of Nr4a1 mRNA levels. Although Nr4a1 mRNA levels in the current case fluctuated during the observation period, they were significantly lower than those in a nonresponding progressive-disease case, as well as a pembrolizumab-responding case with non-SJS but similar background. The suppression of Nr4a1 in current case, might result in upregulation of cytotoxic T cells and a reduction in functional regulatory T cells, promoting favorable antitumor immunity.
The immune responses involving Nr4a1 suppression might relate to complete remission of lung cancer in this case, despite causing SJS, which may be attributed to synergistic effects from pembrolizumab treatment and intervention with steroids. The current case indicates the preliminarily clinical benefit of evaluating Nr4a expression-related indices as the possible clinical covariates and may serve as a milestone for appropriate future chemotherapy interventions.

© 2022. The Author(s).