Programmed cell death ligand-1 (PD-L1) expression by immunohistochemistry: could it be predictive and/or prognostic in non-small cell lung cancer?

Cancer Biol Med. 2016 Jun;13(2):157-70. doi: 10.20892/j.issn.2095-3941.2016.0009.


Blockade of immune checkpoints has recently emerged as a novel therapeutic strategy in various tumors. In particular, monoclonal antibodies targeting programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) or its ligand (PD-L1) have been most studied in lung cancer, and PD-1 inhibitors are now established agents in the management of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The reports on high-profile clinical trials have shown the association of PD-L1 expression by immunohistochemistry (IHC) with higher overall response rates to the PD-1/PD-L1 axis blockade suggesting that PD-L1 expression may serve as a predictive marker. Unfortunately, however, each PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitor is coupled with a specific PD-L1 antibody, IHC protocol and scoring system for the biomarker assessment, making the head-to-head comparison of the studies difficult. Similarly, multiple clinical series that correlated PD-L1 expression with clinicopathologic and/or molecular variables and/or survival have reported conflicting results. The discrepancy could be explained by the differences in ethnicity and/or histologic types included in the studies, but it appears to be attributed in part to the differences in PD-L1 IHC methods. Thus, orchestrated efforts to standardize the PD-L1 IHC are warranted to establish the IHC as a predictive and/or prognostic biomarker in NSCLC.

Keywords: PD-1; PD-L1; biomarker; immunohistochemistry; predictive.