PD-L1 expression and immune escape in melanoma resistance to MAPK inhibitors

Hojabr Kakavand, Robert V. Rawson, Gulietta M. Pupo, Jean Y.H. Yang, Alexander M. Menzies, Matteo S. Carlino, Richard F. Kefford, Julie R. Howle, Robyn P. M. Saw, John F. Thompson, James S. Wilmott, Georgina V. Long, Richard A. Scolyer, Helen Rizos*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    45 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose: To examine the relationship between immune activity, PD-L1 expression, and tumor cell signaling, in metastatic melanomas prior to and during treatment with targeted MAPK inhibitors. Experimental Design: Thirty-eight tumors from 17 patients treated with BRAF inhibitor (n = 12) or combination BRAF/MEK inhibitors (n = 5) with known PD-L1 expression were analyzed. RNA expression arrays were performed on all pretreatment (PRE, n = 17), early during treatment (EDT, n = 8), and progression (PROG, n = 13) biopsies. HLA-A/HLA-DPB1 expression was assessed by IHC. Results: Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) of PRE, EDT, and PROG melanomas revealed that transcriptome signatures indicative of immune cell activation were strongly positively correlated with PD-L1 staining. In contrast, MAPK signaling and canonical Wnt/-β-catenin activity was negatively associated with PD-L1 melanoma expression. The expression of PD-L1 and immune activation signatures did not simply reflect the degree or type of immune cell infiltration, and was not sufficient for tumor response to MAPK inhibition. Conclusions: PD-L1 expression correlates with immune cells and immune activity signatures in melanoma, but is not sufficient for tumor response to MAPK inhibition, as many PRE and PROG melanomas displayed both PD-L1 positivity and immune activation signatures. This confirms that immune escape is common in MAPK inhibitor–treated tumors. This has important implications for the selection of second-line immunotherapy because analysis of mechanisms of immune escape will likely be required to identify patients likely to respond to such therapies.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)6054-6061
    Number of pages8
    JournalClinical Cancer Research
    Issue number20
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2017


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