Inducible but not constitutive expression of PD-L1 in human melanoma cells is dependent on activation of NF-κB

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 6;10(4):e0123410. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123410. eCollection 2015.


Monoclonal antibodies against immune checkpoint blockade have proven to be a major success in the treatment of melanoma. The programmed death receptor-1 ligand-1 (PD-L1) expression on melanoma cells is believed to have an inhibitory effect on T cell responses and to be an important escape mechanism from immune attack. Previous studies have shown that PD-L1 can be expressed constitutively or can be induced by IFN-γ secreted by infiltrating lymphocytes. In the present study we have investigated the mechanism underlying these two modes of PD-L1 expression in melanoma cells including cells that had acquired resistance to the BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib. PD-L1 expression was examined by flow cytometry and immunoblotting. Specific inhibitors and siRNA knockdown approaches were used to examine the roles of the RAF/ MEK, PI3K, NF-κB, STAT3 and AP1/ c-Jun pathways. IFN-γ inducible expression of PD-L1 was dependent on NF-κB as shown by inhibition with BMS-345541, an inhibitor of IκB and the BET protein inhibitor I-BET151, as well as by siRNA knockdown of NF-κB subunits. We were unable to implicate the BRAF/MEK pathway as major regulators in PD-L1 expression on vemurafenib resistant cells. Similarly the PI3K/AKT pathway and the transcription factors STAT3 and c-Jun had only minor roles in IFN-γ induced expression of PD-L1. The mechanism underlying constitutive expression remains unresolved. We suggest these results have significance in selection of treatments that can be used in combination with monoclonal antibodies against PD1, to enhance their effectiveness and to reduce inhibitory effects melanoma cells have against cytotoxic T cell activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • B7-H1 Antigen / genetics
  • B7-H1 Antigen / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Imidazoles / pharmacology
  • Indoles / pharmacology*
  • Interferon-gamma / pharmacology*
  • Melanoma / metabolism*
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism*
  • Quinoxalines / pharmacology
  • Sulfonamides / pharmacology*
  • Time Factors
  • Vemurafenib


  • 4(2'-aminoethyl)amino-1,8-dimethylimidazo(1,2-a)quinoxaline
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • CD274 protein, human
  • Imidazoles
  • Indoles
  • NF-kappa B
  • Quinoxalines
  • Sulfonamides
  • Vemurafenib
  • Interferon-gamma

Grants and funding

The study was supported by the program grant 633004 from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.