Programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression is a predictive biomarker of response to immunotherapies targeting programmed death-1/PD-L1 in advanced-stage lung adenocarcinoma. The aim of this study was to investigate the associations between PD-L1 expression and clinicopathological features, prognosis, and driver oncogene alterations in patients with lung adenocarcinoma.
We evaluated PD-L1 expression in 1,005 surgically resected lung adenocarcinoma specimens, by immunohistochemistry using the 22C3 antibody. PD-L1 positivity was defined based on the proportion of stained tumor cells (TPS) on tissue microarrays: <1% (negative), 1-49% (weakly positive), and ≥ 50% (strongly positive). Correlations between PD-L1 expression and clinicopathological features, prognosis, and driver oncogene (EGFR, KRAS, ALK, ROS1, and RET) alterations in lung adenocarcinoma were analyzed.
PD-L1 expression was negative in 726 (72%) of 1,005 tumors, weakly positive in 161 (16%), and strongly positive in 118 (12%). Male sex, smoking, elevated serum carcinoembryonic antigen levels, advanced pathological stages, high-grade tumors, predominantly solid tumors, tumors with lymphatic permeation or vascular or pleural invasion, tumors without EGFR mutations, and tumors with KRAS mutations were more common in patients with PD-L1-positive tumors (TPS ≥ 1%) than in those with PD-L1-negative tumors (TPS < 1%). PD-L1 positivity was not associated with ALK, ROS1, or RET fusion status. Although PD-L1 positivity was associated with poor overall survival and poor relapse-free survival in all patients, this was not statistically significant after adjusting for prognostic factors in the multivariate analysis. In the subgroup analysis according to driver oncogene alterations, PD-L1 positivity was associated with poor relapse-free survival only in patients with EGFR-mutated tumors.
Surgically resected lung adenocarcinomas with increased PD-L1 expression were biologically aggressive tumors that frequently occurred in male smokers. PD-L1 expression and its prognostic significance differed according to driver oncogene alterations.

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