Role of PD-L1 expression as a biomarker for GEP neuroendocrine neoplasm grading

Elisabetta Cavalcanti, Raffaele Armentano, Anna Maria Valentini, Marcello Chieppa, Maria Lucia Caruso

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Neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) are rare, heterogeneous and ubiquitous tumors commonly localized in the gastrointestinal tract, lung, and pancreas. The clinical behavior of NEN is highly unpredictable; in fact, low-grade cases can unexpectedly be associated with metastases. Currently, the 2010 WHO NEN classification employs histological differentiation and the proliferation index for grading tumors but fails to provide reliable prognostic and therapeutic indications. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a better characterization of G2/G3 NENs. Similar to several other tumors, NENs possess immune-escape mechanisms, but very little has yet been done to characterize this crucial aspect. There are no available data describing PD-L1 expression in these tumors. Here we provide, for the first time, evidence of PD-L1 tissue expression in gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms (GEP-NENs). PD-L1 expression was significantly associated with a high-grade WHO classification (G3) (P<0.001) but not with gender, primary site, or lymph node status. The PD-L1 positivity rate and signal intensity are directly correlated (P<0.001) with a grade increase from G1 to G3. In particular in G3 cases, we observed a dichotomy between the morphology (WD- and PD-NENs) and Ki67. Moreover, our study demonstrated a significant association with the grade and PD-L1 expression levels in immune-infiltrating cells (P<0.001). In particular, G3 tumors are characterized by strong PD-L1 expression in both the tumor and infiltrating immune cells (P<0.001), reflecting an unfavorable environment for T-cell-mediated tumor aggression. These findings suggest that NENs might acquire resistance to immune surveillance by upregulating PD-L1 and inhibiting peritumoral and intratumoral infiltrating lymphocytes. Here we demonstrate that PD-L1 is currently the best-known biomarker for G3 NENs, becoming the new gold standard for G3 NEN discrimination. Furthermore, pharmacological approaches using anti-PD-1 antibodies may become the logical choice for the treatment of G3 cases with a poor prognosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e3004
Number of pages8
JournalCell Death and Disease
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 24 2017


  • Journal Article


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