PD-L1 and PD-1 expression in pediatric central nervous system germ cell tumors

Mod Pathol. 2022 Dec;35(12):1770-1774. doi: 10.1038/s41379-022-01142-3. Epub 2022 Sep 3.


Central nervous system (CNS) germ cell tumors (GCTs) represent 2-3% of all primary CNS tumors. The majority are germinomas, which are radiosensitive and have an excellent prognosis. Contrarily, CNS non-germinomatous GCTs (NGGCTs) have less favorable prognosis and require more aggressive treatment. The expression of checkpoint/immune markers in CNS GCTs, particularly NGGCTs, is unknown. We previously reported a case of a patient whose intracranial NGGCT (predominantly choriocarcinoma) responded to immune checkpoint inhibition therapy. This case led us to evaluate our archive of intracranial GCTs for expression of PD-L1 and PD-1. With IRB approval, we searched the pathology archives at our institution for CNS GCTs. Demographic, radiologic, clinical, and histologic information was extracted from the medical records. Immunohistochemistry for lymphocytic markers (CD4, CD8, CD20), PD-1, and PD-L1 was performed. PD-L1 was considered positive if greater than 1% of tumor cells were positive and PD-1 was reported as a percentage of positive inflammatory cells. Fifty cases were identified, including 28 germinomas (mean age at diagnosis: 15.5 years; 17 males, 11 females), and 22 NGGCTs (mean age at diagnosis: 12.0 years, 21 males, 1 female). Germinomas were mostly suprasellar (17/28) and NGGCTs were predominantly pineal (17/22). Twenty-two germinomas (79%) were positive for PD-L1 expression, and 13 NGGCTs (57%) were positive for PD-L1. Cases of choriocarcinoma showed the most diffuse PD-L1 expression. PD-1 expression was seen in lymphocytes among 27/28 of the germinomas and 20/23 of the NGGCTs (ranging from 1-40% of lymphocytes). As expected, larger quantities of inflammatory cells were present in cases of germinoma. We demonstrate immune activity in CNS GCTs, and our results suggest that immune checkpoint inhibitors may be efficacious in the treatment of intracranial GCTs. Among NGGCTs, cases of choriocarcinoma showed the highest expression of PD-L1 in tumor cells, suggesting that this subtype may have the greatest benefit from checkpoint blockade.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Brain Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Central Nervous System Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Child
  • Choriocarcinoma*
  • Female
  • Germinoma* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms, Germ Cell and Embryonal*
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor


  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor
  • B7-H1 Antigen