Background: Anti-PD-1 therapy has shown a promising clinical outcome in gastric cancer (GC). We evaluated the clinical significance of systemic immune-related gene expression in GC patients who underwent surgery. Methods: The correlation between the preoperative PD-1, PD-L1, and CD8 mRNA levels in peripheral blood (PB) and clinicopathological factors, including survival, in 372 GC patients was evaluated using quantitative RT-PCR. PD-1- and PD-L1-expressing cells were identified by flow cytometric analysis. Results: The PD-1, PD-L1, and CD8 mRNA levels in GC patients were significantly higher than those in normal controls, respectively (all P < 0.0001). The levels of each gene were positively correlated with those of the other two genes (all P < 0.0001). GC patients with low PD-1, high PD-L1, and low CD8 mRNA levels had significantly poorer overall survival (OS) than those with high PD-1, low PD-L1, and high CD8 mRNA levels, respectively (P < 0.01, P < 0.05, and P < 0.05, respectively). Multivariate analysis showed that low PD-1 and high PD-L1 mRNA levels were independent poor prognostic factors for OS (PD-1: HR 2.38, 95% CI 1.27–4.78, P < 0.01; PD-L1: HR 1.81, 95% CI 1.15–2.78, P < 0.05). PD-1 and PD-L1 expression occurred on T cells (> 90%) and T cells or monocytes (> 70%), respectively. Conclusions: The PD-1, PD-L1, and CD8 mRNA levels in preoperative PB reflected the anti-tumour immune response, and the low PD-1 and high PD-L1 mRNA levels in PB were independent poor prognostic markers in GC patients who underwent surgery.
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