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The microenvironment of a tumor may regulate the anti-tumor immune response. Intratumoral acidosis and hypoxia may suppress lymphocyte proliferation and migration, and this may have important implications in modern immunotherapy. The expression of PD-L1 by cancer cells and of PD-1 by tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) was assessed in tissue specimens from 98 operable NSCLC patients. Their prognostic role and their association with makers of glycolysis and anaerobic metabolism were assessed. Strong cytoplasmic/membrane PD-L1 expression was noted in 45/98 cases. Intense presence of TILs was noted in 42/98 cases (high TIL-score), and intense presence of PD-1 expressing TILs (high PIL-score) in 17/98 cases. PD-L1 expression was directly correlated with high PIL-score (p = 0.005). A significant inverse relationship was found between lactate dehydrogenase LDH5 expression and PIL-score (p = 0.008). Similarly, low PIL-score was significantly linked with high-hexokinase HXKII and monocarboxylate transporter MCT2 expression (p < 0.04). Cases with both intense TIL-score and PIL-score had significantly better survival (p < 0.05). For patients with high TIL-score or high PIL-score, PD-L1 overexpression defined significantly poorer survival (p = 0.01 and p = 0.03, respectively). In multivariate analysis, stage (p = 0.002, HR 3.33, 95%CI 1.4-4.5) and TIL-score (p = 0.02, HR 2.12, 95%CI 1.1-4.0) were independent predictive variables of death events. Given the low specificity of PD-L1 as a biomarker for anti-PD-1/PD-L1 immunotherapy, a combined assessment of TIL, PD-L1, PD-1, and LDH5 provides a tool for an immunological/metabolic classification of NSCLC tumors, with a different prognosis and different expected response to anti-PD-1/PD-L1 immunotherapy, which should be considered in relevant clinical trials.

Original publication




Journal article


Med Oncol

Publication Date





LDH5, Metabolism, Non-small cell lung cancer, PD-1, PD-L1, TILs