The PD-L1/PD-1 pathway promotes dysfunction, but not “exhaustion”, in tumor-responding T cells from pleural effusions in lung cancer patients

Cancer Immunology, immunotherapy [Epub 2017 March 13] [Link]

Prado-Garcia H, Romero-Garcia S, Puerto-Aquino A, Rumbo-Nava U


Malignant pleural effusions are frequent in patients with advanced stages of lung cancer and are commonly infiltrated by lymphocytes and tumor cells. CD8+ T cells from these effusions have reduced effector functions. The programmed death receptor 1(PD-1)/programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) pathway is involved in T-cell exhaustion, and it might be responsible for T-cell dysfunction in lung cancer patients. Here, we show that PD-L1 is expressed on tumor cell samples from malignant effusions, on lung cancer cell lines, and, interestingly, on MRC-5 lung fibroblasts. PD-L1 was up-regulated in lung cancer cell lines upon treatment with IFN-gamma, but not under hypoxic conditions, as detected by RT-qPCR and flow cytometry. Blockade of PD-L1 on tumor cells restored granzyme-B expression in allogenic CD8+ T cells in vitro. Remarkably, pleural effusion CD8+ T cells that responded to the tumor antigens MAGE-3A and WT-1 (identified as CD137+ cells) were lower in frequency than CMV pp65-responding CD8+ T cells and did not have an exhausted phenotype (PD-1+ TIM-3+). Nonetheless, tumor-responding CD8+ T cells had a memory phenotype and expressed higher levels of PD-1. A PD-L1 blocking antibody increased the expression of granzyme-B and perforin on polyclonal- and tumor-stimulated CD8+ T cells. Taken together, our data show that rather than being exhausted, tumor-responding CD8+ T cells are not completely differentiated into effector cells and are prone to negative regulation by PD-L1. Hence, our study provides evidence that lung cancer patients respond to immunotherapy due to blockade of the PD-L1/PD-1 pathway.