Although the role of PD-L1 in suppressing the anti-tumor immune response is extensively documented, recent discoveries indicate a distinct tumor-intrinsic role for PD-L1 in modulating epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), cancer stem cell (CSC)-like phenotype, metastasis and resistance to therapy. In this review, we will focus on the newly discovered functions of PD-L1 in the regulation of cancer development, describe underlying molecular mechanisms responsible for PD-L1 upregulation and discuss current insights into novel components of PD-L1 signaling. Furthermore, we summarize our current understanding of the link between PD-L1 signaling and the EMT program as well as the CSC state. Tumor cell-intrinsic PD-L1 clearly contributes to cancer stemness, EMT, tumor invasion and chemoresistance in multiple tumor types. Conversely, activation of OCT4 signaling and upregulation of EMT inducer ZEB1 induce PD-L1 expression in cancer cells, thereby suggesting a possible immune evasion mechanism employed by cancer stem cells during metastasis. Our meta-analysis demonstrated that PD-L1 is co-amplified along with MYC, SOX2, N-cadherin and SNAI1 in the TCGA endometrial and ovarian cancer datasets. Further identification of immune-independent PD-L1 functions and characterization of crucial signaling events upstream or downstream of PD-L1 in diverse cancer types and specific cancer subtypes, would provide additional targets and new therapeutic approaches.
Bibliographical noteFunding: This work was supported by a grant from JSPS Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) (16K11123 and 18K09278) and the Science and Technology Planning Project of Guangdong Province, China (2014A020212124).
- cancer stem cells