5 years ago

Expression of PD-L1 and other immunotherapeutic targets in thymic epithelial tumors

Andreas Rimner, Keith E. Steele, Matthew D. Hellmann, Gregory J. Riely, Jarushka Naidoo, Kathryn C. Arbour, Andre L. Moreira, Joyson Karakunnel, James Huang, Paul B. Robbins, Natasha Rekhtman, Ai Ni

by Kathryn C. Arbour, Jarushka Naidoo, Keith E. Steele, Ai Ni, Andre L. Moreira, Natasha Rekhtman, Paul B. Robbins, Joyson Karakunnel, Andreas Rimner, James Huang, Gregory J. Riely, Matthew D. Hellmann


The thymus is a critical organ for the development of the adaptive immune system and thymic epithelial tumors (TETs; thymomas and thymic carcinomas) are often associated with auto-immune paraneoplastic conditions. However, the immunobiology of TETs is not well described. An evaluation of the tumor microenvironment, with particular focus on expression of immunotherapeutic targets, may facilitate and prioritize development of immunotherapy strategies for patients with TETs.


Tumor tissues from 23 patients with WHO Type B2/B3 thymoma (n = 12) and thymic carcinoma (n = 11) were identified and clinical outcomes were annotated. The expression of membranous PD-L1 on tumor cells, CD3+ and CD8+ tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), co-stimulatory (CD137, GITR, ICOS), and co-inhibitory immune checkpoint molecules (PD-1, CTLA-4, TIM-3) were assessed semi-quantitatively using immunohistochemistry.


PD-L1 positivity (≥ 25% of tumor membrane expression) was frequent in TETs (15/23, 65%), more common in thymomas compared to thymic carcinomas (p<0.01), and was associated with longer overall survival (p = 0.02). TIM-3 and GITR were expressed in all TETs, including 18/23 and 12/23 with at least moderate/high expression, respectively. Moderate/high CD137 expression correlated with CD8+ (p = 0.01) and moderate/high GITR expression co-associated with PD-1 (p = 0.043).


TETs are characterized by frequent PD-L1 expression and PD-L1 is associated with improved survival, suggesting PD-L1 signaling may be biologically important in TETs. Robust expression of markers of immune activation and immunotherapeutic target molecules in TETs emphasizes the potential for development of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 therapies.

Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182665

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