BACKGROUND: Programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression is emerging as an important predictive biomarker in anti-PD-L1 cancer immunotherapy. Its role has been clearly defined in various human cancers and is linked to a poor prognosis and resistance to anticancer therapies. The role of PD-L1 in thyroid cancers has not been well defined in fine-needle aspiration cytology (FNAC). The authors examined the performance of PD-L1 immunostaining in liquid-based cytology (LBC) to determine whether it could be a biomarker of malignancy or aggressive disease.
METHODS: From January 2018 to March 2019, 236 thyroid lesions, which had been diagnosed by FNAC as indeterminate lesions, suspicious for malignancy (SFM), and malignant, were enrolled. PD-L1 immunostaining was performed on both LBC and corresponding histology samples.
RESULTS: The FNAC cohort included 50 benign negative controls, 42 samples of atypia of undetermined significance/follicular lesion of undetermined significance (AUS/FLUS), 33 samples of follicular neoplasm/suspicious for follicular neoplasm (FN/SFN), 53 samples that were suspicious for malignancy (SFM), and 58 malignant samples. AUS/FLUS samples included 3 goiters, 32 follicular adenomas (FAs), 1 noninvasive follicular thyroid neoplasm with papillary-like nuclear features (NIFTP), 5 invasive follicular variants of papillary thyroid carcinoma (I-FVPTCs), and 1 follicular carcinoma; whereas FN/SFN samples included 24 FAs and 9 malignancies (4 I-FVPTCs, 1 NIFTP, 3 papillary thyroid carcinomas [PTCs], and 1 oncocytic follicular carcinoma). The 53 SFM samples were diagnosed on histopathology as 2 FAs, 5 NIFTPs, 15 I-FVPTCs, and 31 PTCs; whereas the 58 malignant specimens included 5 NIFTPs, 5 I-FVPTCs, and 48 PTCs. Increased plasma membrane and cytoplasmic PD-L1 expression was found in 79 cases (38.5%), including 61 PTCs (conventional and variants). Negative PD-L1 expression was found in NIFTPs and FAs. A BRAF V600E mutation was identified in 15% of PD-L1-positive malignancies.
CONCLUSIONS: The current data suggest that PD-L1 expression in the thyroid gland might represent a marker of malignancy that correlates with PTC, but not with NIFTP. Thyroid neoplasms with PD-L1 expression also ae enriched with BRAF V600E mutations, suggesting that they are associated with more aggressive behavior.