Negative prognostic impact of PD-L1 expression in tumor cells of undifferentiated (anaplastic) carcinoma with osteoclast-like giant cells of the pancreas: study of 13 cases comparing ductal pancreatic carcinoma and review of the literature

Virchows Arch. 2020 Nov;477(5):687-696. doi: 10.1007/s00428-020-02830-8. Epub 2020 May 18.


Pancreatic carcinoma remains one of the leading cancer-related causes of death worldwide and is generally characterized by a dismal prognosis and limited potential for oncologic treatment. A rare subvariant of pancreatic cancer, undifferentiated carcinoma with osteoclast-like giant cells (UCOGC), has an unpredictable prognosis according to many previous studies, with unexpectedly long survival in individual cases. In this study, we collected, retrospectively, 13 cases of well-documented UCOGCs and performed immunohistochemistry focused on the expression of the programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) and several other potential therapeutic and predictive markers (PanTRK, p53, MSH2, PMS2, and the number of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes), to explore their correlation with the follow-up of the patients. As a control group, we examined 24 cases of conventional pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). In our results, PanTRK was negative in all 24 cases. P53 did not show any significant differences between UCOGCs and PDACs, and the entire cohort was MSH2, MLH1, PMS2, and MSH6 positive. Significant differences were present in the analysis of PD-L1: UCOGCs were found to express PD-L1 significantly more frequently and have a higher number of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes than PDAC. The expression of PD-L1 was related to significantly shorter survival in patients with UCOGC and in the entire cohort. Patients with PD-L1 negative UCOGCs displayed surprisingly long survival in comparison to PD-L1 positive UCOGCs and PDACs (both PD-L1+ and PD-L1-). We compared our results with previously published data, and, after statistical analysis, we were able to identify PD-L1 as an effective prognostic marker of UCOGC and suggest a strong need for a clinical trial of immune checkpoint immunotherapy in patients with advanced PD-L1 positive UCOGC.

Keywords: Carcinoma; Immunotherapy; Osteoclast giant cell; PD-L1; Pancreas; Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • B7-H1 Antigen / analysis*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / therapy
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Female
  • Giant Cells / immunology*
  • Giant Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoclasts / immunology*
  • Osteoclasts / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / mortality
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / therapy
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


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