Heterogeneity in Immune Marker Expression after Acquisition of Resistance to EGFR Kinase Inhibitors: Analysis of a Case with Small Cell Lung Cancer Transformation

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Expression of immune markers is of scientific interest because of their potential roles as predictive biomarkers for immunotherapy. Although the microenvironment of metastatic tumors and/or therapy-inducible histological transformation may affect the expression of these immune markers, there are few data regarding this context.


A 76-year-old never-smoking female with EGFR-mutated lung adenocarcinoma (AC) acquired resistance to gefitinib. After her death, an autopsy revealed SCLC transformation and EGFR T790M secondary mutation (T790M) as mutually exclusive resistance mechanisms occurring differently in different metastases; two liver metastases (SCLC versus AC with T790M) and two lymph node metastases (SCLC versus AC with T790M) were analyzed to compare the expression status of immune markers by immunohistochemistry and by an immune oncology gene expression panel.


Programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) protein was partially expressed in tumor cells with AC lesions (T790M) but not in tumor cells with SCLC transformation. The liver metastasis with SCLC transformation showed no stromal PD-L1 expression and scant tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, whereas the other lesions demonstrated stromal PD-L1 staining and infiltration of CD8-positive T cells. Data generated using an immuno-oncology gene expression panel indicated a higher level of T-cell costimulatory molecules and lower expression of type I interferon–regulated genes in lesions with SCLC transformation.


These data highlight the heterogeneity of expression of immune markers depending on the metastatic sites and histological transformation and indicate that the biopsy specimen from one lesion may not be representative of immune marker status for all lesions.

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