Objective As a negative regulator of T cells, Programmed Death Ligand 1 (PD-L1) is both an indicator and inhibitor of anti-tumor immune responses, which has led to confusion about its prognostic significance. We investigated the primary source of PD-L1 expression in epithelial ovarian cancer and its relationship to tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) and associated gene products. Methods Tissue microarrays containing high-grade serous carcinomas (HGSC) and endometrioid, clear cell and mucinous ovarian cancers from optimally debulked patients were assessed by immunohistochemistry for expression of PD-L1 and other markers (CD68, CD3, CD8, PD-1, CD103, FoxP3 and CD25). The Cancer Genome Atlas was interrogated for associations between PD-L1 expression and immune-related transcriptional and genomic features of HGSC. Results PD-L1 was primarily expressed by tumor-associated CD68+ macrophages rather than tumor cells. PD-L1+ cells frequently co-localized with CD8, CD4 and PD-1+ TIL, CD25+ FoxP3+ Tregs, and other TIL subsets. PD-L1+ cells were prognostically favorable in HGSC. Moreover, the presence of both PD-L1+ cells and CD8 TIL was associated with better prognosis than CD8 TIL alone. PD-L1 gene expression was independent of BRCA status. At the transcriptional level, PD-L1 was associated with both cytolytic (granzyme B, T-bet and IFN-γ) and suppressive (PD-1, CTLA-4, LAG3 and IDO-1) gene products. Conclusions PD-L1 is primarily expressed by macrophages in ovarian cancer and is strongly associated with both cytolytic and regulatory TIL subsets, resulting in a net positive association with survival. Tumors containing PD-L1+ macrophages appear caught in an immunological stalemate that may require multi-pronged immunotherapy to alleviate.
Webb, J. R., Milne, K., Kroeger, D. R., & Nelson, B. H. (2016). PD-L1 expression is associated with tumor-infiltrating T cells and favorable prognosis in high-grade serous ovarian cancer. Gynecologic Oncology, 141(2), 293–302. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygyno.2016.03.008