Background: Therapeutic targeting of the immune checkpoints cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated molecule-4 (CTLA-4) and PD-1/PD-L1 has demonstrated tumor regression in clinical trials, and phase 2 trials are ongoing in glioblastoma (GBM). Previous reports have suggested that responses are more frequent in patients with tumors that express PD-L1; however, this has been disputed. At issue is the validation of PD-L1 biomarker assays and prognostic impact.
Methods: Using immunohistochemical analysis, we measured the incidence of PD-L1 expression in 94 patients with GBM. We categorized our results according to the total number of PD-L1-expressing cells within the GBMs and then validated this finding in ex vivo GBM flow cytometry with further analysis of the T cell populations. We then evaluated the association between PD-L1 expression and median survival time using the protein expression datasets and mRNA from The Cancer Genome Atlas.
Results: The median percentage of PD-L1-expressing cells in GBM by cell surface staining is 2.77% (range: 0%-86.6%; n = 92), which is similar to the percentage found by ex vivo flow cytometry. The majority of GBM patients (61%) had tumors with at least 1% or more PD-L1-positive cells, and 38% had at least 5% or greater PD-L1 expression. PD-L1 is commonly expressed on the GBM-infiltrating T cells. Expression of both PD-L1 and PD-1 are negative prognosticators for GBM outcome.
Conclusions: The incidence of PD-L1 expression in GBM patients is frequent but is confined to a minority subpopulation, similar to other malignancies that have been profiled for PD-L1 expression. Higher expression of PD-L1 is correlated with worse outcome.
Keywords: PD-1; PD-L1; cancer stem cells; glioblastoma; immune suppression.
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