PD-L1 expression in human placentas and gestational trophoblastic diseases

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One of the major immune checkpoints responsible for immune evasion in cancer cells is the interaction between programmed cell death-1 (PD-1) and its ligand (PD-L1). As human trophoblastic cells display many of the features of malignant cells such as the ability to invade normal tissue including blood vessels and are apparently not eradicated by the host immune system, we undertook the present study to determine whether PD-L1 was upregulated in different types of trophoblastic cells during normal pregnancy and in gestational trophoblastic diseases. Immunohistochemistry using an anti-PD-L1-specific antibody demonstrated that in early and term normal placentas, PD-L1 was highly expressed in syncytiotrophoblast and to a much lower extent in intermediate trophoblastic cells located in the chorion laeve and implantation site. PDL1 immunoreactivity was undetectable in cytotrophoblastic cells. This staining pattern in normal placenta was recapitulated in various types of gestational trophoblastic disease. PD-L1 was highly expressed by syncytiotrophoblast in complete moles and choriocarcinomas. The intermediate trophoblastic neoplasms, placental site trophoblastic tumors, and epithelioid trophoblastic tumors showed variable PD-L1 immunoreactivity but at a lower intensity than in the neoplastic syncytiotrophoblast in choriocarcinoma. In addition, we observed PD-1-positive lymphocytes located within the implantation site and in trophoblastic tumors. In summary, this study describes a novel mechanism for trophoblastic cells to create a tolerogenic feto-maternal interface by upregulating PD-L1 in syncytiotrophoblast and in intermediate trophoblast. Trophoblastic tumors may also use PD-L1 expression to evade the host immune response thereby promoting their survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-153
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Gynecological Pathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017


  • Choriocarcinoma
  • Gestational
  • PD-1
  • PD-L1
  • Trophoblast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology

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