"Avoiding immune destruction" has recently been established as one of the hallmarks of cancer. The programmed cell death (PD)-1/programmed cell death-ligand (PD-L) 1 pathway is an important immunosuppression mechanism that allows cancer cells to escape host immunity. The present study investigated how the expressions of these immune checkpoint proteins affected responses to neo-adjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) in breast cancer.
A total of 177 patients with resectable early-stage breast cancer were treated with NAC. Estrogen receptor, progesteron receptor, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, Ki67, PD-L1, PDL-2 and PD-1 status were assessed by immunohistochemistry.
There were 37 (20.9%) patients with high PD-1 expression, 42 (23.7%) patients had high PD-L1 expression, and 52 (29.4%) patients had high PD-L2 expression. The patients with high PD-1 and PD-L1 expressions had a significantly higher rate of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) (p = 0.041) (p < 0.001). In TNBC, patients with high PD-1 and PD-L1 expressions had significantly higher rates of non-pCR (p = 0.003) (p < 0.001). Univariate analysis showed that PD-1 and PD-L1 expressions also significantly shortened disease free survival in TNBC (p = 0.048, HR = 3.318) (p = 0.007, HR = 8.375). However, multivariate analysis found that only PD-L1 expression was an independent prognostic factor (p = 0.041, HR = 9.479).
PD-1 and PD-L1 expressions may be useful as biomarkers to predict treatment responses to NAC in breast cancer. Above all, PD-L1 expression may also be useful as biomarkers for more effective chemotherapy in TNBC.