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Eur J Immunol. 2012 Mar;42(3):662-71. doi: 10.1002/eji.201141931. Epub 2012 Jan 23.

Reduced tumor-antigen density leads to PD-1/PD-L1-mediated impairment of partially exhausted CD8⁺ T cells.

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  • 1Division of Immunology, The Netherlands Cancer Institute - Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Clinical progression of cancer patients is often observed despite the presence of tumor-reactive T cells. Co-inhibitory ligands of the B7 superfamily have been postulated to play a part in this tumor-immune escape. One of these molecules, PD-L1 (B7-H1, CD274), is widely expressed on tumor cells and has been shown to mediate T-cell inhibition. However, attempts to correlate PD-L1 tumor expression with negative prognosis have been conflicting. To better understand when PD-1/PD-L1-mediated inhibition contributes to the functional impairment of tumor-specific CD8(+) T cells, we varied the levels of antigen density and/or PD-L1 expression at the surface of tumor cells and exposed them to CD8(+) T cells at different levels of functional exhaustion. We found that the gradual reduction of cognate antigen expression by PD-L1-expressing tumor cells increased the susceptibility of partially exhausted T cells to PD-1/PD-L1-mediated inhibition in vitro as well as in vivo. In conclusion, chronically stimulated CD8(+) T cells become sensitive to PD-1/PD-L1-mediated functional inhibition upon low antigen detection; a setting which is likely involved during tumor-immune escape.

Copyright © 2012 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.

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