Background: Papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) is the most common subtype of thyroid cancer, and inflammation relates significantly to its initiation and prognosis. Systematic exploration of the immunogenomic landscape therein to assist in PTC prognosis is therefore urgent. The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project provides a large number of genetic PTC samples that enable a comprehensive and reliable immunogenomic study.

Methods: We integrated the expression profiles of immune-related genes (IRGs) and progression-free intervals (PFIs) in survival in 493 PTC patients based on the TCGA dataset. Differentially-expressed and survival-associated IRGs in PTC patients were estimated a computational difference algorithm and COX regression analysis. The potential molecular mechanisms and properties of these PTC-specific IRGs were also explored with the help of computational biology. A new prognostic index based on immune-related genes was developed by using multivariable COX analysis.

Results: A total of 46 differentially expressed immune-related genes were significantly correlated with clinical outcome of PTC patients. Functional enrichment analysis revealed that these genes were actively involved in a cytokine-cytokine receptor interaction KEGG pathway. A prognostic signature based on RGs (AGTR1, CTGF, FAM3B, IL11, IL17C, PTH2R and SPAG11A) performed moderately in prognostic predictions and correlated with age, tumor stage, metastasis, number of lesions, and tumor burden. Intriguingly, the prognostic index based on IRGs reflected infiltration by several types of immune cells.

Conclusions: Together, our results screened several IRGs of clinical significance, revealed drivers of the immune repertoire, and demonstrated the importance of a personalized, IRG-based immune signature in the recognition, surveillance, and prognosis of PTC.