Posttranscriptional Control of PD-L1 Expression by 17β-Estradiol via PI3K/Akt Signaling Pathway in ERα-Positive Cancer Cell Lines

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Estrogen is a well-known oncogenic driver in endometrial (ECs) and breast cancers (BCs). Programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) and its ligands PD-1 Ligand 1 (PD-L1) and PD-L2 have been shown to mediate immune evasion of the tumor cells. The purpose of the present study was to assess the effects of estrogen on PD-L1 and PD-L2 expression in EC and BC cell lines.


17β-Estradiol (E2)–induced expression of PD-L1 and PD-L2 and possible signaling pathway were investigated in EC and BC cells. Coculture of T cells and cancer cells with E2 stimulation was performed to assess the functions of T cells.


We found that E2 increased expression of PD-L1, but not PD-L2, protein via activation of phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt pathway in Ishikawa and Michigan Cancer Foundation-7 (MCF-7) cells. Phosphoinositide 3-kinase and Akt inhibitors could block E2’s effects. 17β-Estradiol did not increase PD-L1 mRNA transcription, but stabilized PD-L1 mRNA. 17β-Estradiol’s effects were only observed in estrogen receptor α (ERα)–positive Ishikawa and MCF-7 cells, but not in ERα-negative MDA-MB-231 cells. Coculture of Ishikawa or MCF-7 cells with T cells inhibited expression of interferon-γ and interleukin-2 and increased BCL-2-interacting mediator of cell death expression in the presence of E2.


This study provides the first evidence that estrogen upregulates PD-L1 protein expression in ERα-positive EC and BC cells to suppress immune functions of T cells in the tumor microenvironment, demonstrating a new mechanism of how estrogen drives cancer progression.

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