Background: Programmed cell death 1 ligand 1 (PD-L1) and human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I molecules on malignant cell surfaces are pivotal for tumor immunity. The clinical significance of their expression in patients with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) remains to be determined. Methods: PD-L1 and HLA class I protein expression was investigated by immunohistochemical staining of resected specimens from 90 ESCC patients who underwent radical surgery without preoperative therapy. The relationships between the expression of PD-L1 and HLA class I and clinicopathologic factors and patient prognosis were assessed. Results: High expression of PD-L1 and HLA class I were observed in 17 (18.9 %) and 35 (38.9 %) of 90 cases, respectively. High PD-L1 expression was correlated with the depth of tumor invasion (P = 0.0379), lymph node metastasis (P = 0.0031), recurrence (P = 0.0085), and poor overall survival (OS) (5-year survival rate; low/high: 60.9/28.4 %, P = 0.0110). Among those patients with high expression of HLA class I, high PD-L1 expression was correlated with significantly poorer recurrence-free survival (median survival time, low/high: 102.5/3.1 months, P = 0.0016) and poorer OS (median survival time, low/high: 102.5/13.1 months, P = 0.0027). Multivariate analysis showed that combined high PD-L1/high HLA class I expression was an independent prognostic factor for recurrence-free survival (hazard ratio 2.88, 95 % confidence interval 1.02–7.04, P = 0.0455) and OS (hazard ratio 2.95, 95 % confidence interval 1.03–7.50, P = 0.0447). Conclusions: High PD-L1 expression was a significant independent prognostic factor in ESCC patients with high HLA class I expression.
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