Objectives: Anti–programmed cell death 1 (PD-1)/programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) immunotherapy has demonstrated success in the treatment of advanced NSCLC. Recently, PD-1/PD-L1 blockade also has demonstrated interesting results in small trials of neoadjuvant treatment in stage IB to IIIA NSCLC. In addition, several clinical trials using anti–PD-1/PD-L1 immunotherapy as an adjuvant or neoadjuvant treatment in patients with resectable stage NSCLC are ongoing. However, few analyses of anti–PD-1/PD-L1 immunotherapy–related biomarkers in early-stage squamous cell lung carcinoma (SqCLC) have been reported. In this study, we evaluated PD-L1 protein expression, tumor mutation burden, and expression of an immune gene signature in early-stage SqCLC, providing data for identifying the potential role for patients with anti–PD-1/PD-L1 treatment in early-stage SqCLC. Methods: A total of 255 specimens from patients with early-stage SqCLC were identified within participating centers of the Strategic Partnering to Evaluate Cancer Signatures program. PD-L1 protein expression by immunohistochemistry was evaluated by using the Dako PD-L1 22C3 pharmDx kit on the Dako Link 48 auto-stainer (Dako, Carpinteria, CA). Tumor mutation burden (TMB) was calculated on the basis of data from targeted genome sequencing. The T-effector and interferon gamma (IFN-γ) gene signature was determined from Affymetrix gene chip data (Affymetrix, Santa Clara, CA) from frozen specimens. Results: The prevalence of PD-L1 expression was 9.8% at a tumor proportion score cutoff of at least 50%. PD-L1 mRNA and programmed cell death 1 ligand 2 mRNA positively correlated with PD-L1 protein expression on tumor cells (TCs) and tumor-infiltrating immune cells. PD-L1 protein expression on tumor-infiltrating immune cells was correlated with the T-effector and IFN-γ gene signature (p < 0.001), but not with TMB. For TCs, all of these biomarkers were independent of each other and neither PD-L1 protein expression, TMB, or T-effector and IFN-γ gene signatures were independently prognostic for patient outcomes. Conclusions: Evaluation of PD-L1 expression, TMB, and T-effector and IFN-γ gene signatures in the cohort with early-stage SqCLC found them to be independent of each other, and none was associated with overall survival. Our results also support the hypothesis that PD-L1 expression is regulated by an intrinsic mechanism on TCs and an adaptive mechanism on immune cells.
- Early-stage squamous cell lung cancer
- Immune gene signature
- PD-L1 expression
- Tumor mutation burden