Programmed Cell Death Ligand (PD-L1) Expression in Stage II and III Lung Adenocarcinomas and Nodal Metastases

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Programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression determined by immunohistochemistry (IHC) may serve as a predictive biomarker for anti–PD-1/PD-L1 therapies; however, little is known about intertumoral heterogeneity of PD-L1 expression determined by IHC in lung adenocarcinomas (ADCs), and there have been conflicting results on the prognostic role of PD-L1 expression in ADCs.


PD-L1 expression was evaluated in resected stage II and III ADCs by using various cutoffs and correlated with clinicopathologic parameters and survival. PD-L1 expression was also compared between the primary tumor and lymph node metastases.


There were 109 study cases. PD-L1 expression was seen in 56 (51%), 43 (39%), and 19 (17%) when cutoffs of at least 1%, at least 5%, and at least 50%, respectively, were used. Abundant intratumoral CD8-positive T cells were a significant predictor of the expression in the primary tumor, with cutoffs of 1% and 5% (p < 0.001 for both) by multivariate analysis, whereas they were a nonsignificant predictor of the expression with a 50% cutoff (p = 0.076). PD-L1 expression was concordant between the primary tumor and nodal metastasis in most of the cases, but it was discrepant in up to 38%. The discrepancy was attributed in part to different predominant histologic patterns between the primary and metastatic tumors. In the entire cohort, PD-L1 expression with all cutoffs had no bearing on 5-year recurrence-free survival.


PD-L1 expression is associated with abundant intratumoral CD8-positive T cells in resected ADCs, suggesting a predictive role of PD-L1 expression in anti–PD-1/PD-L1 therapies; however, the possible intertumoral heterogeneity of PD-L1 expression raises a concern about selecting the most appropriate sample for PD-L1 IHC.

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