PD-L1 Expression after Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy in Triple-Negative Breast Cancers Is Associated with Aggressive Residual Disease, Suggesting a Potential for Immunotherapy

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Beatriz Grandal, Manon Mangiardi-Veltin, Enora Laas, Marick Laé, Didier Meseure, Guillaume Bataillon, Elsy El-Alam, Lauren Darrigues, Elise Dumas, Eric Daoud, Anne Vincent-Salomon, Laure-Sophie Talagrand, Jean-Yves Pierga, Fabien Reyal, Anne-Sophie Hamy

The consequences of neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) for PD-L1 activity in triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC) are not well-understood. This is an important issue as PD-LI might act as a biomarker for immune checkpoint inhibitors’ (ICI) efficacy, at a time where ICI are undergoing rapid development and could be beneficial in patients who do not achieve a pathological complete response. We used immunohistochemistry to assess PD-L1 expression in surgical specimens (E1L3N clone, cutoff for positivity: ≥1%) on both tumor (PD-L1-TC) and immune cells (PD-L1-IC) from a cohort of T1-T3NxM0 TNBCs treated with NAC. PD-L1-TC was detected in 17 cases (19.1%) and PD-L1-IC in 14 cases (15.7%). None of the baseline characteristics of the tumor or the patient were associated with PD-L1 positivity, except for pre-NAC stromal TIL levels, which were higher in post-NAC PD-L1-TC-positive than in negative tumors. PD-L1-TC were significantly associated with a higher residual cancer burden (p = 0.035) and aggressive post-NAC tumor characteristics, whereas PD-L1-IC were not. PD-L1 expression was not associated with relapse-free survival (RFS) (PD-L1-TC, p = 0.25, and PD-L1-IC, p = 0.95) or overall survival (OS) (PD-L1-TC, p = 0.48, and PD-L1-IC, p = 0.58), but high Ki67 levels after NAC were strongly associated with a poor prognosis (RFS, p = 0.0014, and OS, p = 0.001). A small subset of TNBC patients displaying PD-L1 expression in the context of an extensive post-NAC tumor burden could benefit from ICI treatment after standard NAC.