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Clin Cancer Res. 2013 Jul 1;19(13):3462-73. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-13-0855. Epub 2013 May 14.

PD-L1 expression is characteristic of a subset of aggressive B-cell lymphomas and virus-associated malignancies.

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Department of Pathology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) is an immunomodulatory molecule expressed by antigen-presenting cells and select tumors that engages receptors on T cells to inhibit T-cell immunity. Immunotherapies targeting the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway have shown durable antitumor effects in a subset of patients with solid tumors. PD-L1 can be expressed by Reed-Sternberg cells comprising classical Hodgkin lymphoma (CHL) and by malignant B cells comprising EBV-positive posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorders (PTLD). We sought to determine whether the expression of PD-L1 represents a general strategy of immune evasion among aggressive B-cell lymphomas and virus- and immunodeficiency-associated tumors.


Using novel antibodies and formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue biopsies, we examined 237 primary tumors for expression of PD-L1.


Robust PD-L1 protein expression was found in the majority of nodular sclerosis and mixed cellularity CHL, primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma, T-cell/histiocyte-rich B-cell lymphoma, EBV-positive and -negative PTLD, and EBV-associated diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), plasmablastic lymphoma, extranodal NK/T-cell lymphoma, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, and HHV8-associated primary effusion lymphoma. Within these tumors, PD-L1 was highly expressed by malignant cells and tumor-infiltrating macrophages. In contrast, neither the malignant nor the nonmalignant cells comprising nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma, DLBCL-not otherwise specified, Burkitt lymphoma, and HHV8-associated Kaposi sarcoma expressed detectable PD-L1.


Certain aggressive B-cell lymphomas and virus- and immunodeficiency-associated malignancies associated with an ineffective T-cell immune response express PD-L1 on tumor cells and infiltrating macrophages. These results identify a group of neoplasms that should be considered for PD-1/PD-L1-directed therapies, and validate methods to detect PD-L1 in FFPE tissue biopsies.

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