Research Papers:

Prognostic significance of tumor-infiltrating immune cells and PD-L1 expression in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma

Yubo Jiang, Anthony W.I. Lo, Angela Wong, Wenfeng Chen, Yan Wang, Li Lin and Jianming Xu _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:30175-30189. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.15621

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Yubo Jiang1, Anthony W.I. Lo2, Angela Wong3, Wenfeng Chen3, Yan Wang1, Li Lin1, Jianming Xu1

1Department of Gastrointestinal Oncology, Affiliated Hospital Cancer Center, Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Beijing, P. R. China

2Division of Anatomical Pathology, Department of Pathology & Clinical Biochemistry, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, P. R. China

3Global Early Development, Merck Serono China, Beijing, P. R. China

Correspondence to:

Jianming Xu, email: [email protected]

Keywords: esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, PD-L1, TILs, prognostic factor, tumor microenvironment

Received: November 11, 2016     Accepted: January 11, 2017     Published: February 22, 2017


Programmed death-1 receptor (PD-1) and its ligand (PD-L1) play an integral role in regulating the immune response against cancer. This study investigated the prognostic significance of PD-L1 expression on tumor cells and tumor-infiltrating immune cells (TILs) in the tumor microenvironment in Chinese patients with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). Archival formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded ESCC samples from treatment-naïve patients with ESCC after surgery or by diagnostic endoscopic biopsy were collected between 2004 and 2014. Expression of PD-L1 in ESCC tumor specimens was assessed by immunohistochemistry (IHC), and the degree of TIL infiltration was evaluated by examining hematoxylin and eosin-stained (H&E) specimens. PD-L1+ as defined as ≥1% of tumor cell membranes showing ≥1+ intensity. In 428 patients, specimens from 341 (79.7%) were PD-L1+. In the definitive treatment group (patients who received curative esophagectomy or definitive [chemo-]radiation therapy), PD-L1 positivity was associated with a significantly shorter DFS and OS. In the palliative chemotherapy group exhibited, neither PFS nor OS correlated significantly with PD-L1 expression. PD-L1 expression was positively associated with TIL density. In 17 paired tumor tissues collected before and after treatment, an increase in PD-L1 expression was associated with disease progression, whereas a decrease in PD-L1 expression was associated with response to chemotherapy or disease control. So, PD-L1 expression was associated with a significantly worse prognosis in patients with ESCC. These observations suggest that PD-L1 may play a critical role in ESCC cancer progression and provide a rationale for developing PD-L1 inhibitors for treatment of a subset of ESCC patients.

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