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A Combination of Positive Tumor HLA-I and Negative PD-L1 Expression Provides an Immune Rejection Mechanism in Bladder Cancer

José Francisco Flores-Martín MD, Francisco Perea PhD, Manuela Exposito-Ruiz PhD, Francisco Javier Carretero PhD, Teresa Rodriguez PhD, Marina Villamediana MS, Francisco Ruiz-Cabello PhD, Federico Garrido MD, PhD, José Manuel Cózar-Olmo MD, PhD, Natalia Aptsiauri MD, PhD
Translational Research and Biomarkers
Volume 26, Issue 8 / August , 2019



Tumor human leukocyte antigen class I (HLA-I) expression plays an important role in T cell-mediated tumor rejection. Loss of HLA-I is associated with cancer progression and resistance to immunotherapy, including antibodies blocking programmed death-1/programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-1/PD-L1) signaling. Our objective was to analyze a correlation between HLA-I, tumor immune infiltration, and PD-L1/PD-1 axis in bladder cancer in association with the clinicopathologic features of patients.


We analyzed 85 cryopreserved bladder tumors by immunohistochemistry to investigate the expression of HLA-I, PD-L1, PD-1, CD3, CD8, and CXC chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4). The results were correlated with tumor stage and other clinicopathologic variables of patients.


We found a strong positive correlation between tumor HLA-I expression and infiltration with CD3+ and CD8 + T cells. PD-L1 expression was positive in 15.5% of tumors and heterogeneous in 40.5%, and was linked to a more advanced tumor stage. The majority of HLA-I-positive/heterogeneous tumors also expressed PD-L1 and PD-1, which were significantly correlated with each other and with lymphocyte infiltration. Interestingly, the analysis of the simultaneous expression of both markers revealed that 85.2% of tumors with a positive/heterogeneous HLA-I phenotype and negative for PD-L1 were mostly non-invasive, representing a ‘tumor rejection’ immune phenotype.


High tumor HLA-I expression with absence of PD-L1 provides bladder cancer with an immune rejection mechanism. Evaluation of PD-L1 and HLA-I together should be considered in bladder cancer and may provide a new predictive biomarker of tumor invasiveness and of the response to ‘immune checkpoint’ therapy.

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