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Oncotarget. 2016 Jan 12;7(2):1486-99. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.6429.

Prognostic impact of programmed cell death-1 (PD-1) and PD-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression in cancer cells and tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in ovarian high grade serous carcinoma.

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Institute of Pathology, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
Tumorbank Ovarian Cancer Network, Department of Gynecology, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
Department of Gynecology, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
VM Scope GmbH, Berlin, Germany.



Antibodies targeting the checkpoint molecules programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) and its ligand PD-L1 are emerging cancer therapeutics. We systematically investigated PD-1 and PD-L1 expression patterns in the poor-prognosis tumor entity high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma.


PD-1 and PD-L1 protein expression was determined by immunohistochemistry on tissue microarrays from 215 primary cancers both in cancer cells and in tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs). mRNA expression was measured by quantitative reverse transcription PCR. An in silico validation of mRNA data was performed in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) dataset.


PD-1 and PD-L1 expression in cancer cells, CD3+, PD-1+, and PD-L1+ TILs densities as well as PD-1 and PD-L1 mRNA levels were positive prognostic factors for progression-free (PFS) and overall survival (OS), with all factors being significant for PFS (p < 0.035 each), and most being significant for OS. Most factors also had prognostic value that was independent from age, stage, and residual tumor. Moreover, high PD-1+ TILs as well as PD-L1+ TILs densities added prognostic value to CD3+TILs (PD-1+: p = 0.002,; PD-L1+: p = 0.002). The significant positive prognostic impact of PD-1 and PD-L1 mRNA expression could be reproduced in the TCGA gene expression datasets (p = 0.02 and p < 0.0001, respectively).


Despite their reported immune-modulatory function, high PD-1 and PD-L1 levels are indicators of a favorable prognosis in ovarian cancer. Our data indicate that PD-1 and PD-L1 molecules are biologically relevant regulators of the immune response in high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma, which is an argument for the evaluation of immune checkpoint inhibiting drugs in this tumor entity.


PD-1; PD-L1; high grade serous carcinoma; ovarian; tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes

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