Patterns of PD-1, PD-L1, and PD-L2 expression in pediatric solid tumors

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Significant antitumor effects have been observed in a variety of malignancies via blockade of immune checkpoints. Interaction of programmed death 1 (PD-1) with its ligands PD-L1 and PD-L2 suppresses T-cell function and restricts immune-mediated tumor killing. We examined expression of these proteins in children with solid tumors, as expression may serve as biomarkers of response to this class of drugs.


Sections cut from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue blocks were processed and evaluated for PD-1, PD-L1, and PD-L2 by immunohistochemistry (IHC) as well as by mRNA expression. A semiquantitative 0–5 IHC scoring system (0 = negative to 5 = very high) was applied, with scores incorporating combined prevalence of tumor cell and nontumor cell labeling. Expression profiling was performed using the NanoString nCounter™ system. Data analysis was performed using quantile normalization. All quantile-normalized data underwent subsequent log10 transformation.


One hundred twenty-four FFPE blocks were included in the analysis. PD-1, PD-L1, and PD-L2 IHC were not evaluable in 8, 0, and 12 blocks, respectively. PD-1, PDL-1, and PDL-2 expression was negative to moderate by both IHC (range 0–3) and mRNA expression (range 0–2.62). Correlation between IHC score and mRNA expression was poor for all three tested proteins (PD-1, r2 = 0.06; PDL-1, r2 = 0.007; and PDL-2, r2 = 0.15).


Expression of PD-1, PD-L1, and PD-L2 is low in pediatric solid tumors. At low levels of expression, IHC score and mRNA expression correlate poorly. Current and planned clinical trials will determine whether this low level of expression predicts limited response to immune checkpoint inhibitors.

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