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J Thorac Oncol. 2015 Jun;10(6):910-23. doi: 10.1097/JTO.0000000000000500.

Upregulation of PD-L1 by EGFR Activation Mediates the Immune Escape in EGFR-Driven NSCLC: Implication for Optional Immune Targeted Therapy for NSCLC Patients with EGFR Mutation.

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*State Key Laboratory of Oncology in South China, Department of Medical Oncology, Sun Yat-Sen University Cancer Center, Guangzhou, China; †Collaborative Innovation Center for Cancer Medicine, Sun Yat-Sen University Cancer Center, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China; ‡Department of Medical Oncology, and §Department of Pathology, The Fifth Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University, Zhuhai, Guangdong, China.



Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutation status was reported to be associated with programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression. However, the molecular mechanism of PD-L1 regulation by EGFR activation and the potential clinical significance of blocking PD-1/PD-L1 in EGFR-mutant non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) treated with EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) were largely unknown.


Western blot, real-time polymerase chain reaction, immunofluorescence, and flow cytometry were employed to explore the association between PD-L1 and EGFR activation. Then, we used EGFR-TKIs and downstream pathways inhibitors to clarify the detailed signaling pathway involved in PD-L1 regulation. Cell apoptosis, viability, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test were used to study the immune suppression by EGFR activation and immune reactivation by EGFR-TKIs and/or PD-1 blocking in tumor cells and human peripheral blood mononuclear cells coculture system.


We found that EGFR activation by EGF stimulation, exon-19 deletions, and L858R mutation could induce PD-L1 expression. EGFR activation upregulated PD-L1 through p-ERK1/2/p-c-Jun but not through p-AKT/p-S6 pathway. PD-L1 mediated by EGFR activation could induce the apoptosis of T cells through PD-L1/PD-1 axis in tumor cells and peripheral blood mononuclear cells coculture system. Inhibiting EGFR by EGFR-TKIs could free the inhibition of T cells and enhance the production of interferon-γ. Synergistic tumor cell killing effects were not observed with EGFR-TKIs and anti-PD-1 antibody combination treatment in coculture system.


Our results imply that EGFR-TKIs could not only directly inhibit tumor cell viability but also indirectly enhance antitumor immunity through the downregulation of PD-L1. Anti-PD-1/PD-L1 antibodies could be an optional therapy for EGFR-TKI sensitive patients, especially for EGFR-TKIs resistant NSCLC patients with EGFR mutation. Combination of EGFR-TKIs and anti-PD-1/PD-L1 antibodies treatment in NSCLC is not supported by the current study but warrant more studies to move into clinical practice.

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