Patterns and prognostic relevance of PD-1 and PD-L1 expression in colorectal carcinoma

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Immune checkpoint blockade targeting the programmed death-1 (PD-1) pathway has shown efficacy in several types of cancers including mismatch-repair-deficient colorectal carcinoma. In some tumor types, programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression detected by immunohistochemistry has shown utility as a predictive marker for response to anti-PD-1 therapies. This utility, however, remains to be determined in colorectal carcinoma. In addition, although tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes have been associated with better prognosis in colorectal carcinoma, the prognostic value of PD-1 expression in these lymphocytes and its interaction with PD-L1 expression still await investigation. To address these questions, we performed a pilot study to evaluate the patterns of PD-L1 and PD-1 immunohistochemical expression on colorectal carcinoma cells and their tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, respectively. Using tissue microarray, we found that 5% (19/394) of colorectal carcinomas exhibited high tumor PD-L1 expression, and 19% (76/392) had elevated numbers of PD-1-positive tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. PD-L1 levels correlated with PD-1 levels (P<0.001), and mismatch-repair-deficient tumors had significantly higher rates of high PD-L1 and PD-1 expression when compared with mismatch-repair-proficient tumors (18% vs 2% and 50% vs 13%, respectively; P<0.001 for both). Staining intensity was also stronger for both markers in mismatch-repair-deficient tumors. Furthermore, we observed that among patients with mismatch-repair-deficient colorectal carcinoma, PD-1/PD-L1 expression stratified recurrence-free survival in an inter-dependent manner: an association between high PD-1-positive tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and improved recurrence-free survival (P=0.041) was maintained only when the tumors had low-level PD-L1 expression (P=0.006); patients whose tumors had both high PD-1-positive tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and high PD-L1 expression had a significantly worse recurrence-free survival (P<0.001). Thus, our results not only provide a foundation for further assessment of PD-L1 immunohistochemistry as a predictive marker for anti-PD-1 therapy in colorectal carcinoma, they also shed light on the prognostic impact of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in different subsets of mismatch-repair-deficient colorectal carcinomas.




Lee, L. H., Cavalcanti, M. S., Segal, N. H., Hechtman, J. F., Weiser, M. R., Smith, J. J., … Shia, J. (2016). Patterns and prognostic relevance of PD-1 and PD-L1 expression in colorectal carcinoma. Modern Pathology, 29(11), 1433–1442.

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