Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs) are characterized by a poor prognosis and lack of targeted treatments, and thus, new therapeutic strategies are urgently needed. Inhibitors against programmed death-1 (PD-1)/PD-1 ligand (PD-L1) have shown significant efficacy in various solid cancers, but their activity against TNBCs remains limited. Here, we report that human TNBCs molecularly stratified for high levels of PD-L1 (PD-L1High) showed significantly enriched expression of immune and cancer stemness pathways compared with those with low PD-L1 expression (PD-L1Low). In addition, the PD-L1High cases were significantly associated with a high stemness score (SSHigh) signature. TNBC cell lines gated for aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) and CD44 stemness markers exhibited increased levels of PD-L1 versus their ALDH-negative and CD44Low counterparts, and PD-L1High cells generated significantly more mammospheres than PD-L1Low cells. Murine mammary SCA-1-positive tumor cells with PD-L1High expression generated tumors in vivo with higher efficacy than PD-L1Low cells. Furthermore, treatment of TNBC cells with selective WNT inhibitors or activators downregulated or upregulated PD-L1 expression, respectively, implying a functional cross-talk between WNT activity and PD-L1 expression. Remarkably, human TNBC samples contained tumor elements co-expressing PD-L1 with ALDH1A1 and/or CD44v6. Additionally, both PD-L1-/SCA1-positive and ALDH1A1-positive tumor elements were found in close contact with CD3-, and PD-1-positive T cells in murine and human tumor samples. Overall, our study suggests that PD-L1-positive tumor elements with a stemness phenotype may participate in the complex dynamics of TNBC-related immune evasion, which might be targeted through WNT signaling inhibition.
|Number of pages||14|
|Publication status||Published - 2019|
- Molecular Biology
- Cancer Research