Mechanisms of PD-L1 Regulation in Malignant and Virus-Infected Cells

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 May 5;22(9):4893. doi: 10.3390/ijms22094893.


Programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1), a receptor on T cells, and its ligand, PD-L1, have been a topic of much interest in cancer research. Both tumour and virus-infected cells can upregulate PD-L1 to suppress cytotoxic T-cell killing. Research on the PD-1/PD-L1 axis has led to the development of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 immune checkpoint blockades (ICBs) as promising cancer therapies. Although effective in some cancer patients, for many, this form of treatment is ineffective due to a lack of immunogenicity in the tumour microenvironment (TME). Despite the development of therapies targeting the PD-1/PD-L1 axis, the mechanisms and pathways through which these proteins are regulated are not completely understood. In this review, we discuss the latest research on molecules of inflammation and innate immunity that regulate PD-L1 expression, how its expression is regulated during viral infection, and how it is modulated by different cancer therapies. We also highlight existing research on the development of different combination therapies with anti-PD-1/PD-L1 antibodies. This information can be used to develop better cancer immunotherapies that take into consideration the pathways involved in the PD-1/PD-L1 axis, so these molecules do not reduce their efficacy, which is currently seen with some cancer therapies. This review will also assist in understanding how the TME changes during treatment, which will provide further rationale for combination therapies.

Keywords: PD-1; PD-L1; cancer immunotherapy; combination therapy; immune checkpoint blockade.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmunity
  • B7-H1 Antigen / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / metabolism*
  • Virus Diseases / metabolism*


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor