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PLoS One. 2014 Feb 14;9(2):e88557. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088557. eCollection 2014.

PD-L1 expression is increased in a subset of basal type breast cancer cells.

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Department of Women's Oncology and Experimental Therapeutics, Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida, United States of America.
Department of Anatomic Pathology, Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida, United States of America.
Department of Thoracic Oncology and Immunology, Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida, United States of America.



Tumor cells express programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) and is a key immune evasion mechanism. PD-L1 expression in multiple breast cancer cell lines was evaluated to identify intrinsic differences that affect their potential for immune evasion.


PD-L1 expression was analyzed in six breast cancer cell lines: AU565&MCF7 (luminal), BT20&HCC1143 (basal A), MDA231&HCC38 (basal B). Surface and intracellular PD-L1 expression +/- interferon γ for 48 hours was measured by flow cytometry. PD-L1 gene expression data for all breast cancer cell lines in the Comprehensive Cell Line Encyclopedia (CCLE) was analyzed. Correlation between PD-L1 levels and clinicopathologic parameters was analyzed within Oncomine datasets. A tissue microarray containing 61 invasive breast cancer primary tumor cores was stained for PD-L1 expression and analyzed.


Basal breast cancer cells constitutively express the highest levels of PD-L1. All cell lines increased PD-L1 expression with interferon γ, but basal B cells (MDA-231 and HCC38) demonstrated the largest increases. There were no differences in protein localization between cell lines. In the CCLE data, basal cell lines demonstrated higher mean PD-L1 expression compared to luminal cell lines. High PD-L1 expressing basal cell lines over-express genes involved in invasion, proliferation, and chemoresistance compared to low PD-L1 basal cell lines. High PD-L1 basal cell lines had lower expression of IRF2BP2 and higher STAT1 levels compared to low PD-L1 expressing cell lines. Within Oncomine datasets PDL1 mRNA levels were higher in basal type tumors. The TMA analysis demonstrated that lymph node positive cases had higher levels of PD-L1 protein expression compared to lymph node negative cases.


Basal type breast cancer (especially basal B) express greater levels of PD-L1 constitutively and with IFN γ. High PD-L1 basal cells over-express genes involved in invasion, motility, and chemoresistance. Targeting PD-L1 may enhance eradication of aggressive breast cancer cells by the immune system.

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