Comparative study of the PD-L1 status between surgically resected specimens and matched biopsies of NSCLC patients reveal major discordances: a potential issue for anti-PD-L1 therapeutic strategies

Ann Oncol. 2016 Jan;27(1):147-53. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdv489. Epub 2015 Oct 19.


Background: High expression of programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) on tumor cells (TC) and/or on tumor-infiltrating immune cells (IC) is associated with a high response rate in patients with advanced nonsmall-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) treated with PD-L1 inhibitors. The use of a PD-L1 immunohistochemical (IHC) test in determining the responsiveness to immunotherapy has raised the question of the reliability and reproducibility of its evaluation in lung biopsies compared with corresponding resected surgical specimens.

Patients and methods: PD-L1 expression in TC and IC was assessed in 160 patients with operable NSCLC on both whole surgical tissue sections and matched lung biopsies, by using a highly sensitive SP142 IHC assay. The specimens were scored as TC 0-3 and IC 0-3 based on increasing PD-L1 expression.

Results: PD-L1 expression was frequently discordant between surgical resected and matched biopsy specimens (the overall discordance rate = 48%; 95% confidence interval 4.64-13.24) and κ value was equal to 0.218 (poor agreement). In all cases, the biopsy specimens underestimated the PD-L1 status observed on the whole tissue sample. PD-L1-positive IC tumors were more common than PD-L1-positive TC tumors on resected specimens. The discrepancies were mainly related to the lack of a PD-L1-positive IC component in matched biopsies.

Conclusions: Our results indicate relatively poor association of the PD-L1 expression in TC and IC between lung biopsies and corresponding resected tumors. Although these results need to be further validated in larger cohorts, they indicate that the daily routine evaluation of the PD-L1 expression in diagnostic biopsies can be misleading in defining the sensitivity to treatment with PD-L1 targeted therapy.

Keywords: NSCLC; PD-L1; biopsy; immunohistochemistry; immunotherapy; surgical resected specimen.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • B7-H1 Antigen / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Biopsy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CD274 protein, human