High PD-1/PD-L1 checkpoint interaction infers tumor selection and therapeutic sensitivity to anti-PD-1/PD-L1 treatment


Many cancers are termed immunoevasive due to expression of immunomodulatory ligands. Programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) and cluster of differentiation 80/86 (CD80/86) interact with their receptors, programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) and cytotoxic T-lymphocyte associated protein-4 (CTLA-4) respectively, on tumor-infiltrating leukocytes eliciting immunosuppression. Immunotherapies aimed at blocking these interactions are revolutionizing cancer treatments, albeit in an inadequately described patient subset. To address the issue of patient stratification for immune checkpoint intervention, we quantitatively imaged PD-1/PD-L1 interactions in tumor samples from patients, employing an assay that readily detects these intercellular protein-protein interactions in the less than or equal to 10nm range. These analyses across multiple patient cohorts demonstrated the inter-cancer, inter-patient, and intra-tumoral heterogeneity of interacting immune checkpoints. The PD-1/PD-L1 interaction was not correlated with clinical PD-L1 expression scores in malignant melanoma. Crucially, amongst anti-PD-1 treated metastatic NSCLC patients, those with lower PD-1/PD-L1 interaction had significantly worsened survival. It is surmised that within tumors selecting for an elevated level of PD-1/PD-L1 interaction, there is a greater dependence on this pathway for immune evasion and hence they exhibit more impressive patient response to intervention.

Journal details

Journal Cancer Research
Volume 80
Issue number 19
Pages 4244-4257
Available online
Publication date

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