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Haematologica. 2013 Jun;98(6):953-63. doi: 10.3324/haematol.2012.077537. Epub 2013 Jan 8.

The PD-1/PD-L1 axis contributes to T-cell dysfunction in chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

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Human Genetics Foundation (HuGeF) and Department of Medical Sciences, University of Turin, Turin, Italy.


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is marked by profound defects in T-cell function. Programmed death-1 is a receptor involved in tumor-mediated immunosuppression through binding of the PD-L1 ligand. Multiparametric flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry were used to study PD-1/PD-L1 expression. Functional assays were used to determine the involvement of the PD-1/PD-L1 axis in T-cell responses. PD-1 expression by CD4(+) and CD8(+) T lymphocytes was significantly higher in 117 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients than in 33 donors of a comparable age. CD4(+) and CD8(+) T lymphocytes from chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients displayed increased numbers of effector memory and terminally differentiated cells, respectively, when compared to controls. The number of effector memory CD4(+) and terminally differentiated CD8(+) lymphocytes positively associated with a more advanced stage of disease, treatment requirements and unfavorable genomic aberrations. Furthermore, leukemic lymphocytes expressed higher levels of PD-L1 than circulating B lymphocytes from normal donors. PD-1 and PD-L1 surface expression spiked in proliferating T and B lymphocytes, suggesting that this interaction works efficiently in activated environments. Within chronic lymphocytic leukemia proliferation centers in the lymph node, CD4(+)/PD-1(+) T lymphocytes were found to be in close contact with PD-L1(+) chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells. Lastly, functional experiments using recombinant soluble PD-L1 and blocking antibodies indicated that this axis contributes to the inhibition of IFN-γ production by CD8(+) T cells. These observations suggest that pharmacological manipulation of the PD-1/PD-L1 axis may contribute to restoring T-cell functions in the chronic lymphocytic leukemia microenvironment.

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