A recent phase 2 study of metastatic colorectal carcinoma (CRC) patients showed that mismatch repair gene status was predictive of clinical response to PD-1-targeting immune checkpoint blockade. Further examination revealed strong correlation between PD-L1 protein expression and microsatellite instability (MSI) in stage IV CRC, suggesting that the amount of PD-L1 protein expression could identify late stage patients who may benefit from immunotherapy. To assess whether the clinical associations between PD-L1 gene expression and MSI identified in metastatic CRC are also present in stage II/III CRC, we used in silico analysis to elucidate the cell types expressing the PD-L1 gene. We found a significant association of PD-L1 gene expression with MSI in early stage CRC (P < 0.001) and show that unlike in non-CRC tumors, PD-L1 is derived predominantly from the immune infiltrate. We demonstrate that PD-L1 gene expression has positive prognostic value in the adjuvant disease setting (PD-L1low v PD-L1high HR = 9.09; CI, 2.11-39.10). PD-L1 gene expression had predictive value, as patients with high PD-L1 expression appear to be harmed by standard-of-care treatment (HR = 4.95; CI,1.10-22.35). Building on the promising results from the metastatic CRC PD-1-targeting trial, we provide compelling evidence that PD-L1high/MSI/immunehigh stage II/III CRC patients should not receive standard chemotherapy. This conclusion supports the rationale to clinically evaluate this patient subgroup for PD-1 blockade treatment.
- Received December 14, 2015.
- Revision received March 21, 2016.
- Accepted April 6, 2016.
- Copyright ©2016, American Association for Cancer Research.