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Blood. 2019 May 23;133(21):2279-2290. doi: 10.1182/blood-2018-10-879015. Epub 2019 Mar 25.

PD-L1 gene alterations identify a subset of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma harboring a T-cell-inflamed phenotype.

Author information

Section of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Medicine.
Committe on Cancer Biology.
Center for Research Informatics.
Department of Pediatrics.
Department of Pathology.
Department of Cytogenetics, and.
Committee on Immunology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL; and.
Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, NJ.


Programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression on malignant cells is a dominant immune escape mechanism across a variety of human cancers. A unique genetic mechanism underlying PD-L1 upregulation has been uncovered in classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL), in which copy gains of the chromosomal region (9p24.1) containing the programmed death-1 (PD-1) ligands PD-L1 and PD-L2 are recurrently observed. While chromosome 9p24.1 copy-number alterations are ubiquitous in cHL, they also occur in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), albeit with a lower incidence. Here, fluorescence in situ hybridization was used to identify DLBCLs harboring PD-L1 gene alterations, thereby enabling a characterization of the immunogenomic landscape of these lymphomas. Among 105 DLBCL cases analyzed, PD-L1 alterations were identified in 27%. PD-L1 alterations were highly enriched among non-germinal center DLBCLs and exhibited robust PD-L1 protein expression. These lymphomas were heavily infiltrated by clonally restricted T cells and frequently downregulated human leukocyte antigen expression. RNA sequencing of PD-L1-altered DLBCLs revealed upregulation of genes involved in negative T-cell regulation and NF-κB pathway activation, while whole-exome sequencing identified frequent mutations in genes involved in antigen presentation and T-cell costimulation. Many of these findings were validated in a large external data set. Interestingly, DLBCL patients with PD-L1 alterations had inferior progression-free survival following front-line chemoimmunotherapy; however, in the relapsed/refractory setting, PD-L1 alterations were associated with response to anti-PD-1 therapy. Collectively, our results indicate that PD-L1 alterations identify a unique biological subset of DLBCL in which an endogenous antilymphoma immune response has been activated, and that is associated with responsiveness to PD-1 blockade therapy.

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