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Programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) is a 40kDa type 1 transmembrane protein that has been speculated to play a major role in suppressing the immune system during particular events such as pregnancy, tissue allografts, autoimmune disease and other disease states such as hepatitis. Normally the immune system reacts to foreign antigens where there is some accumulation in the lymph nodes or spleen which triggers a proliferation of antigen-specific CD8+ T cells. The binding of PD-L1 to PD-1 or B7.1 transmits an inhibitory signal which reduces the proliferation of these CD8+ T cells at the lymph nodes and supplementary to that PD-1 is also able to control the accumulation of foreign antigen specific T cells in the lymph nodes through apoptosis which is further mediated by a lower regulation of the gene Bcl-2.
PD-L1 binds to its receptor, PD-1, found on activated T cells, B cells, and myeloid cells, to modulate activation or inhibition. The affinity between PD-L1 and PD-1, as defined by the dissociation constant Kd, is 770nM. Interestingly, PD-L1 also has an appreciable affinity for the costimulatory molecule CD80 (B7-1), but not CD86 (B7-2). CD80's affinity for PD-L1, 1.4µM, is intermediate between its affinities for CD28 and CTLA-4 (4.0µM and 400nM, respectively). The related molecule PD-L2 has no such affinity for CD80 or CD86, but shares PD-1 as a receptor (with a stronger Kd of 140nM). Said et al. showed that PD-1, up-regulated on activated CD4 T-cells, can bind to PD-L1 expressed on monocytes and induces IL-10 production by the latter.
Engagement of PD-L1 with its receptor PD-1 on T cells delivers a signal that inhibits TCR-mediated activation of IL-2 production and T cell proliferation. The mechanism involves inhibition of ZAP70 phosphorylation and its association with CD3ζ. PD-1 signaling attenuates PKC-θ activation loop phosphorylation (resulting from TCR signaling), necessary for the activation of transcription factors NF-κB and AP-1, and for production of IL-2. PD-L1 binding to PD-1 also contributes to ligand-induced TCR down-modulation during antigen presentation to naive T cells, by inducing the up-regulation of the E3 ubiquitin ligase CBL-b.
Upon IFN-γ stimulation, PD-L1 is expressed on T cells, NK cells, macrophages, myeloid DCs, B cells, epithelial cells, and vascular endothelial cells. The PD-L1 gene promoter region has a response element to IRF-1, the interferon regulatory factor. Type I interferons can also upregulate PD-L1 on murine hepatocytes, monocytes, DCs, and tumor cells.
PD-L1 is notably expressed on macrophages. In the mouse, it has been shown that classically activated macrophages (induced by type I helper T cells or a combination of LPS and interferon-gamma) greatly upregulate PD-L1. Alternatively, macrophages activated by IL-4 (alternative macrophages), slightly upregulate PD-L1, while greatly upregulating PD-L2. It has been shown by STAT1-deficient knock-out mice that STAT1 is mostly responsible for upregulation of PD-L1 on macrophages by LPS or interferon-gamma, but is not at all responsible for its constitutive expression before activation in these mice.
Role of MicroRNAs
Resting human cholangiocytes express PD-L1 mRNA, but not the protein, due to translational suppression by microRNA miR-513. Upon treatment with interferon-gamma, miR-513 was down-regulated, thereby lifting suppression of PD-L1 protein. In this way, interferon-gamma can induce PD-L1 protein expression by inhibiting gene-mediated suppression of mRNA translation.
It appears that upregulation of PD-L1 may allow cancers to evade the host immune system. An analysis of 196 tumor specimens from patients with renal cell carcinoma found that high tumor expression of PD-L1 was associated with increased tumor aggressiveness and a 4.5-fold increased risk of death. Many PD-L1 inhibitors are in development as immuno-oncology therapies and are showing good results in clinical trials. These include an engineered Affimer biotherapeutic from Avacta Life Sciences and anti-PD-L1 antibodies from Medimmune, Genentech and Merck and Pfizer.
In a mouse model of intracellular infection, L. monocytogenes induced PD-L1 protein expression in T cells, NK cells, and macrophages. PD-L1 blockade (using blocking antibodies) resulted in increased mortality for infected mice. Blockade reduced TNFα and nitric oxide production by macrophages, reduced granzyme B production by NK cells, and decreased proliferation of L. monocytogenes antigen-specific CD8 T cells (but not CD4 T cells). This evidence suggests that PD-L1 acts as a positive costimulatory molecule in intracellular infection.
The PD-1/PD-L1 interaction is implicated in autoimmunity from several lines of evidence. NOD mice, an animal model for autoimmunity that exhibit a susceptibility to spontaneous development of type I diabetes and other autoimmune diseases, have been shown to develop precipitated onset of diabetes from blockade of PD-1 or PD-L1 (but not PD-L2).
In humans, PD-L1 was found to have altered expression in pediatric patients with Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Studying isolated PBMC from healthy children, immature myeloid dendritic cells and monocytes expressed little PD-L1 at initial isolation, but spontaneously up-regulated PD-L1 by 24 hours. In contrast, both mDC and monocytes from patients with active SLE failed to upregulate PD-L1 over a 5-day time course, expressing this protein only during disease remissions. This may be one mechanism whereby peripheral tolerance is lost in SLE.
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