Background: The programmed cell death-1 receptor/programmed cell death-1 ligand (PD-1/PD-L1) pathway plays a crucial role in tumor evasion from host immunity. This study was designed to evaluate the association between circulating PD-L1/PD-1 and prognosis after cryoablation in patients with HBV-related hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Methodology/principal findings: In the present study, 141 HBV-related HCC patients were enrolled and of those 109 patients received cryoablation. Circulating PD-L1/PD-1 expression was tested by flow cytometry, and 23 patients were simultaneously evaluated for intratumoral PD-L1 expression by immunohistochemical staining. Circulating PD-1/PD-L1 expression was associated with severity of diseases in patients with HCC, and the circulating PD-L1 expression was closely correlated with intratumoral PD-L1 expression. Of the clinical parameters, PD-1/PD-L1 expression was associated with tumor size, blood vessel invasion and BCLC staging. Moreover, PD-1/PD-L1 expression dropped after cryoablation while being elevated at the time of tumor recurrence. Patients with higher expression of circulating PD-L1, as well as circulating PD-1, had a significantly shorter overall survival and tumor-free survival than those with lower expression. Multivariate analysis confirmed that circulating PD-L1 could serve as an independent predictor of overall survival and tumor-recurrence survival in HCC patients after cryoablation.
Conclusions/significance: Upregulation of circulating PD-L1/PD-1 is associated with poor post-cryoablation prognosis in patients with HBV-related hepatocellular carcinoma.