Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC) is a highly mortal malignancy with limited therapeutic options. Immunotherapies targeting PD-1/PD-L1 pathway represent a promising treatment for ICC. However, PD-L1 expression and microsatellite instability are not common in ICC. This study aimed to investigate whether HHLA2, a newly identified B7 family immune checkpoint for T cells, could be a therapeutic target next to PD-L1 in ICC.
Expression levels of PD-L1 and HHLA2 as well as infiltrations of CD3+, CD8+, CD4 + Foxp3+, CD68+, CD163+ and CD20+ cells were evaluated by immunohistochemistry in 153 resected ICC samples. Comprehensive comparisons were made between PD-L1 and HHLA2 in terms of the expression rates, clinicopathological features and infiltrations of different immune cells. The expression level and prognostic significance of HHLA2 were further validated in an independent cohort.
Expression of HHLA2 is more frequent than PD-L1 in ICC (49.0% vs 28.1%). Co-expression of both immune checkpoints was infrequent (13.1%) and 50% PD-L1 negative cases were with elevated HHLA2. HHLA2 overexpression was associated with sparser CD3+ tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), CD8+ TILs and a higher CD4 + Foxp3+/CD8+ TIL ratio, whereas PD-L1 expression was associated with prominent T cells and CD163+ tumor associated macrophages infiltrations. PD-L1 failed to stratify overall survival (OS) but HHLA2 was identified as an independent prognostic indicator for OS in two independent cohorts.
Compared with PD-L1, HHLA2 is more prevalent and possesses more explicit prognostic significance, which confer the rationale for HHLA2 as a potential immunotherapeutic target next to PD-L1 for ICC patients.
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