PD-L1 protein expression in breast cancer is rare, enriched in basal-like tumours and associated with infiltrating lymphocytes

Ann Oncol. 2015 Jul;26(7):1488-93. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdv192. Epub 2015 Apr 20.


Background: Expression of programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) in solid tumours has been shown to predict whether patients are likely to respond to anti-PD-L1 therapies. To estimate the therapeutic potential of PD-L1 inhibition in breast cancer, we evaluated the prevalence and significance of PD-L1 protein expression in a large collection of breast tumours.

Patients and methods: Correlations between CD274 (PD-L1) copy number, transcript and protein levels were evaluated in tumours from 418 patients recruited to the METABRIC genomic study. Immunohistochemistry was used to detect PD-L1 protein in breast tumours in tissue microarrays from 5763 patients recruited to the SEARCH population-based study (N = 4079) and the NEAT randomised, controlled trial (N = 1684).

Results: PD-L1 protein data was available for 3916 of the possible 5763 tumours from the SEARCH and NEAT studies. PD-L1 expression by immune cells was observed in 6% (235/3916) of tumours and expression by tumour cells was observed in just 1.7% (66/3916). PD-L1 was most frequently expressed in basal-like tumours. This was observed both where tumours were subtyped by combined copy number and expression profiling [39% (17/44) of IntClust 10 i.e. basal-like tumours were PD-L1 immune cell positive; P < 0.001] and where a surrogate IHC-based classifier was used [19% (56/302) of basal-like tumours were PD-L1 immune cell positive; P < 0.001]. Moreover, CD274 (PD-L1) amplification was observed in five tumours of which four were IntClust 10. Expression of PD-L1 by either tumour cells or infiltrating immune cells was positively correlated with infiltration by both cytotoxic and regulatory T cells (P < 0.001). There was a nominally significant association between PD-L1 and improved disease-specific survival (hazard ratio 0.53, 95% confidence interval 0.26-1.07; P = 0.08) in ER-negative disease.

Conclusions: Expression of PD-L1 is rare in breast cancer, markedly enriched in basal-like tumours and is correlated with infiltrating lymphocytes. PD-L1 inhibition may benefit the 19% of patients with basal-like tumours in which the protein is expressed.

Neat clinicaltrialsgov: NCT00003577.

Keywords: CD274; PD-L1; basal-like; breast cancer; immune checkpoint; lymphocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • B7-H1 Antigen / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / pathology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology*
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / metabolism*
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Prognosis
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Tissue Array Analysis


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Biomarkers, Tumor

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00003577