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PLoS One. 2018 Apr 19;13(4):e0195958. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0195958. eCollection 2018.

Expression of immune checkpoint regulators, cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4) and programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1), in female breast carcinomas.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California, United States of America.



Immune checkpoint regulators, cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4) and the programmed cell death protein-1/programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-1/PD-L1) have emerged as promising new targets for cancer therapeutics. While tumor expression of PD-L1 has been shown to have objective responses to anti-PD-L1 immunotherapies, the clinical implications of CTLA-4 expression in tumor cells or immune cells in the tumor microenvironment is still controversial. We investigated the expression of CTLA-4 and PD-L1 in human breast tumors and provided a scoring system for the systematic evaluation of CTLA-4 staining.


Immunohistochemical staining for PD-L1 and CTLA-4 expression was performed on a tissue microarray of 102 cores, which included normal and neoplastic breast tissues. Neoplastic cores were divided into four groups: Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) and invasive tubular carcinoma (ITC). PD-L1 and CTLA-4 expressions were scored based on a system which accounted for the percentage and intensity of positivity and results provided in conjunction with available clinical and demographic data.


Overall, CTLA-4 was over-expressed in 49 of 93 (52.7%) breast tumors. Subcategorically, CTLA-4 was positive in 3 of 8 (37.5%) ductal carcinoma in situ, 40 of 73 (55%) of invasive ductal carcinomas, 4 of 10 (40%) of invasive lobular carcinomas and 2 of 2 (100%) of invasive tubular carcinomas. All 6 normal breast tissues were interpreted as negative for CTLA-4 staining. Only 4.1% of the invasive ductal carcinomas were positive for PD-L1 reactivity and the remaining carcinomas stained negative.


This study shows a significant overexpression of CTLA-4 in >50% of breast carcinomas with no such overexpression of CTLA-4 in benign breast tissues. PDL-1 staining is seen in only a small number of invasive ductal carcinomas (4.1%). These findings suggest the need for further investigation of anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-L1 immunotherapies and their efficacy in the treatment of breast carcinomas with overexpression of these immune modulators. In addition, the proposed scoring system will facilitate a more systematic correlation between tumor reactivity and clinical outcome which can be applied to all intracytoplasmic tumor markers.

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