Epigenetic treatment-mediated modulation of PD-L1 predicts potential therapy resistance over response markers in myeloid malignancies: A molecular mechanism involving effectors of PD-L1 reverse signaling

Hongbin Liu, Yunshan Hu, Rafael Rimoldi, Chloe Von Hagt, Edmund W.C. Khong, Nora Lee, Shaun Flemming, Andrew Spencer, Anthony E. Dear

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Recent evidence suggests an association exists between resistance to epigenetic therapy (EGT) and the expression of programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) and programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) in myeloid malignancies. Biomarkers are required to predict resistance to EGT in myeloid malignancies, which together with the delineation of associated molecular mechanisms, may provide additional understanding for novel treatment strategies when investigating resistance to EGT. The present study aimed to investigate the in vivo effects of EGT on the expression of PD-1, PD-L1 and orphan nuclear receptor NUR77 with clinical responses in patients with myeloid malignancies. In addition, in vitro and in vivo characterization of the effects of EGT on the expression of NF-κB and Bcl-xL, potential downstream targets of PD-L1 reverse signaling, were evaluated to determine components of the molecular mechanism responsible for these effects. The in vivo effects of EGT on the expression of PD-1, PD-L1 and a previously identified molecular marker of response to EGT, NUR77 was characterized in peripheral blood mono-nuclear cells (PBMC) from patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treated with either azacytidine (Aza) alone or a combination of Aza and the histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDACi) LBH-589 during the first cycle of therapy. The correlation of clinical responses to treatment with EGT with the expression of PD-1, PD-L1 and NUR77 demonstrated that the induction of PD-L1 mRNA levels was associated with resistance to EGT despite the concurrent augmentation of NUR77 expression. The characterization of potential downstream effector molecules of reverse PD-L1 signaling identified EGT-mediated induction of Bcl-xL and NF-κB mRNA expression in vitro and in vivo, suggesting a potential anti-apoptotic molecular mechanism was responsible for PD-L1-mediated resistance to EGT. Taken together, these observations suggest that enhanced PD-L1 expression may confer resistance to EGT over known EGT response markers in myeloid malignancies, and provides a potential molecular mechanism involving the modulation of effectors of PD-L1 reverse signaling, which may in-part, be responsible for these effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2543-2550
Number of pages8
JournalOncology Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • Biomarker
  • Epigenetic
  • Myelodysplasia
  • Myeloid leukemia
  • Programmed cell death protein 1

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