Background The quantification of PD-L1 (programmed cell death ligand 1) has been used to predict patient’s survival, to characterize the tumor immune microenvironment, and to predict response to immune checkpoint therapies. However, a framework to assess the PD-L1 status with a high interobserver reproducibility on tumor cells and different types of immune cells has yet to be established.
Materials and Methods To study the impact of PD-L1 expression on the tumor immune microenvironment and patient outcome, a framework for fully automated PD-L1 quantification on tumor cells and immune cells was established and validated. Automated PD-L1 quantification was facilitated by incorporating three different deep learning steps for the analysis of more than 80 different neoplasms from more than 10’000 tumor specimens using a bleach & stain 15-marker multiplex fluorescence immunohistochemistry panel (i.e., PD-L1, PD-1, CTLA-4, panCK, CD68, CD163, CD11c, iNOS, CD3, CD8, CD4, FOXP3, CD20, Ki67, CD31). Clinicopathological parameter were available for more than 30 tumor entities and overall survival data were available for 1517 breast cancer specimens.
Results Comparing the automated deep-learning based PD-L1 quantification with conventional brightfield PD-L1 data revealed a high concordance in tumor cells (p<0.0001) as well as immune cells (p<0.0001) and an accuracy of the automated PD-L1 quantification ranging from 90% to 95.2%. Across all tumor entities, the PD-L1 expression level was significantly higher in distinct macrophage/dendritic cell (DC) subsets (identified by CD68, CD163, CD11c, iNOS; p<000.1) and in macrophages/DCs located in the Stroma (p<0.0001) as compared to intratumoral macrophages/DC subsets. Across all different tumor entities, the PD-L1 expression was highly variable and distinct PD-L1 driven immune phenotypes were identified based on the PD-L1 intensity on both tumor and immune cells, the distance between non-exhausted T-cell subsets (i.e. PD-1 and CTLA-4 expression on CD3+CD8+ cytotoxic T-cells, CD3+CD4+ T-helper cells, CD3+CD4+FOXP3+ regulatory T-cells) and tumor cells as well as macrophage/(DC) subtypes. In breast cancer, the PD-L1 fluorescence intensity on tumor cells showed a significantly higher predictive performance for overall survival with an area under receiver operating curves (AUC) of 0.72 (p<0.0001) than the percentage of PD-L1+ tumor cells (AUC: 0.54). In PD-L1 positive as well as negative breast cancers a close spatial relationship between T- cell subsets (CD3+CD4±CD8±FOXP3±PD-1±CTLA-4±) and Macrophage/DC subsets (CD68±CD163±CD11c±iNOS) was found prognostic relevant (p<0.0001).
Conclusions In conclusion, multiplex immunofluorescence PD-L1 assessment provides cutoff-free/continuous PD-L1 data which are superior to the conventional percentage of PD-L1+ tumor cells and of high prognostic relevance. The combined analysis of spatial PD-L1/PD-1 data and more than 20 different immune cell subtypes of the immune tumor microenvironment revealed distinct PD-L1 immune phenotypes.
Disclosure Information N.C. Blessin: None. E. Bady: None. T. Mandelkow: None. C. Yang: None. J. Raedler: None. R. Simon: None. C. Fraune: None. M. Lennartz: None. S. Minner: None. E. Burandt: None. D. Höflmayer: None. G. Sauter: None. S.A. Weidemann: None.
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