Consistency of tumor and immune cell programmed cell death ligand-1 expression within and between tumor blocks using the VENTANA SP263 assay

Diagn Pathol. 2018 Jul 24;13(1):47. doi: 10.1186/s13000-018-0725-9.


Background: Several anti-programmed cell death-1 (PD-1) and anti-programmed cell death ligand-1 (PD-L1) therapies have shown encouraging safety and clinical activity in a variety of tumor types. A potential role for PD-L1 testing in identifying patients that are more likely to respond to treatment is emerging. PD-L1 expression in clinical practice is determined by testing one tumor section per patient. Therefore, it is critical to understand the impact of tissue sampling variability on patients' PD-L1 classification.

Methods: Resected non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and urothelial carcinoma (UC) tissue samples (five samples per tumor type) were obtained from commercial sources and two tumor blocks were taken from each. Three sections from each block (~ 100 μm apart) were stained using the VENTANA PD-L1 (SP263) assay, and scored based on the percentage of PD-L1-staining tumor cells (TCs) or tumor-infiltrating immune cells (ICs) present. Each section was categorized as PD-L1 high or low/negative using a variety of cut-off values, and intra-block and intra-case (between blocks of the same tumor) concordance (overall percentage agreement [OPA]) were evaluated. An additional 200 commercial NSCLC samples were also analyzed, and intra-block concordance determined by scoring two sections per sample (≥70 μm apart).

Results: Concordance in TC PD-L1 classification was high at all applied cut-offs. Intra-block and intra-case OPA for the 15 NSCLC, HNSCC or UC samples were 100% and 80-100%, respectively, across all cut-offs; intra-block OPA for the 200 NSCLC samples was 91.0-98.5% across all cut-offs. IC PD-L1 classification was less consistent; intra-block and intra-case OPA for the 15 NSCLC, HNSCC or UC samples ranged between 70 and 100% and between 60 and 100%, respectively, with similar observations in the intra-block analysis of the 200 NSCLC samples.

Conclusions: These results show the reproducibility of TC PD-L1 classification across the depth of the tumor using the VENTANA PD-L1 (SP263) assay. Practically, this means that treatment decisions based on TC PD-L1 classification can be made confidently, following analysis of one tumor section. Although more variable than TC staining, consistent IC PD-L1 classification was also observed within and between blocks and across cut-offs.

Keywords: Assay; Concordance; Consistency; Heterogeneity; Immunohistochemistry; Intra-block; Intra-case; PD-L1; Reproducibility; SP263.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • B7-H1 Antigen / analysis*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / chemistry*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry*
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / surgery
  • Male
  • Microtomy
  • Middle Aged
  • Paraffin Embedding*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Reagent Kits, Diagnostic*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / chemistry*
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / pathology
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / surgery
  • Urologic Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Urologic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Urologic Neoplasms / surgery
  • Urothelium / chemistry*
  • Urothelium / pathology
  • Urothelium / surgery


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • CD274 protein, human
  • Reagent Kits, Diagnostic