Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2018 10 08() pii 10.1073/pnas.1802166115


Programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression on tumor cells (TCs) by immunohistochemistry is rapidly gaining importance as a diagnostic for the selection or stratification of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) most likely to respond to single-agent checkpoint inhibitors. However, at least two distinct patterns of PD-L1 expression have been observed with potential biological and clinical relevance in NSCLC: expression on TC or on tumor-infiltrating immune cells (ICs). We investigated the molecular and cellular characteristics associated with PD-L1 expression in these distinct cell compartments in 4,549 cases of NSCLC. PD-L1 expression on IC was more prevalent and likely reflected IFN-γ-induced adaptive regulation accompanied by increased tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and effector T cells. High PD-L1 expression on TC, however, reflected an epigenetic dysregulation of the PD-L1 gene and was associated with a distinct histology described by poor immune infiltration, sclerotic/desmoplastic stroma, and mesenchymal molecular features. Importantly, durable clinical responses to atezolizumab (anti-PD-L1) were observed in patients with tumors expressing high PD-L1 levels on either TC alone [40% objective response rate (ORR)] or IC alone (22% ORR). Thus, PD-L1 expression on TC or IC can independently attenuate anticancer immunity and emphasizes the functional importance of IC in regulating the antitumor T cell response.