Diagnostic Utility of PD-L1 Expression in Lung Adenocarcinoma: Immunohistochemistry and RNA In Situ Hybridization

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Programmed death receptor and programmed death ligand (PD-L1) are immunoregulatory proteins. Nonsmall cell lung cancer bypasses the immune system through the induction of protumorigenic immunosuppressive changes. The better understanding of immunology and antitumor immune responses has brought the promising development of novel immunotherapy agents like programmed death receptor checkpoint inhibitors. The aim of this study was to investigate the expression of PD-L1 in lung adenocarcinoma (ADC), comparing 2 different technologies: immunohistochemistry (IHC) by 2 methods versus RNA in situ hybridization (RISH).


In total, 20 cases of ADC of the lung and 4 samples of metastatic colon ADC were selected. Evaluation of PD-L1 expression was performed by IHC and RISH. RISH was performed using RNAscope. Both methods were scored in tumor cells and quantified using combined intensity and proportion scores.


Eight of 20 (40%) lung ADC and 2 of 4 (50%) colon ADC were positive for PD-L1 with Cell Signaling IHC, and 65% lung ADC were positive by Dako IHC (13/20). All 4 cases of colon ADC were negative. When evaluated by RISH, 12 lung ADC (60%) and 1 colon ADC (25%) were PD-L1 positive.


RNAscope probes provide sensitive and specific detection of PD-L1 in lung ADC. Both IHC methods (Cell Signaling and Dako) show PD-L1 expression, with the Dako method more sensitive (40% vs. 65%). This study illustrates the utility of RISH and Cell Signaling IHC as complementary diagnostic tests, and Food and Drug Administration approved Dako IHC as a companion diagnostic test.

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