Purpose: The aberrant expression of programmed cell death 1 ligands 1 and 2 (PD-Ls) on tumor cells dampens antitumor immunity, resulting in tumor immune evasion. In this study, we investigated the expression of PD-Ls in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) to define their prognostic significance after curative surgery.
Experimental design: Immunohistochemistry was used to investigate PD-Ls expression as well as granzyme B+ cytotoxic and FoxP3+ regulatory T cell infiltration on tissue microarrays containing 240 randomly selected HCC patients who underwent surgery. The results were further verified in an independent cohort of 125 HCC patients. PD-Ls expression on HCC cell lines was detected by Western blot assay.
Results: Patients with higher expression of PD-L1 had a significantly poorer prognosis than patients with lower expression. Although patients with higher expression of PD-L2 also had a poorer survival, the difference in recurrence was not statistically significant. Multivariate analysis identified tumor expression of PD-L1 as an independent predictor for postoperative recurrence. No correlation was found between PD-Ls expression and granzyme B+ lymphocyte infiltration, whereas a significant positive correlation was detected between PD-Ls expression and FoxP3+ lymphocyte infiltration. In addition, tumor-infiltrating cytotoxic and regulatory T cells were also independent prognosticators for both survival and recurrence. The prognostic value of PD-L1 expression was validated in the independent data set.
Conclusion: Our data suggest for the first time that PD-L1 status may be a new predictor of recurrence for HCC patients and provide the rationale for developing a novel therapy of targeting the PD-L1/PD-1 pathway against this fatal malignancy.