Expression and role of the immune checkpoint regulator PD-L1 in the tumor-stroma interplay of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma

Formalin-fixed and paraffin embedded tissue samples of primary PDAC tissues and corresponding liver metastases were used for immunohistochemical analyses. Serial sections were stained with antibodies detecting Pan-Cytokeratin, CD68, CD163, CD8, and PD-L1.To investigate whether the PD-1/PD-L1 axis and macrophages contribute to immune escape [...]


Immunohistochemical analyses revealed that PD-L1 is mainly expressed by stroma cells, including macrophages and not PDAC cells in primary PDAC tissues and corresponding liver metastases. Notably, high local abundance of macrophages and strong PD-L1 staining were commonly found at invasion fronts of tumoral lesions between CD8+ T cells and tumor cells. In order to investigate whether PD-L1 expressing macrophages impact the response of PDAC cells to treatment with PD-L1/PD-1 inhibitors, we developed a spheroid model comprising two different PDAC cell lines and different ratios of in vitro differentiated primary M1- or M2-like polarized macrophages. In line with our in situ findings, high PD-L1 expression was observed in macrophages rather than PDAC cells, which was further increased by the presence of PDAC cells. The effector phenotype of co-cultured CD8+ T cells exemplified by expression of activation markers and release of effector molecules was rather enhanced by PDAC macrophage spheroids, particularly with M1-like macrophages compared to mono-culture spheroids. However, this was not associated with enhanced PDAC cell death. ICI treatment with either Durvalumab or Pembrolizumab alone or in combination with Gemcitabine hardly affected the effector phenotype of CD8+ T cells along with PDAC cell death. Thus, despite strong PD-L1 expression in macrophages, ICI treatment did not result in an enhanced activation and cytotoxic phenotype of CD8+ T cells.


Overall, our study revealed novel insights into the interplay of PDAC cells and macrophages in the presence of ICI.


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