Pemetrexed Enhances Membrane PD-L1 Expression and Potentiates T Cell-Mediated Cytotoxicity by Anti-PD-L1 Antibody Therapy in Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer

Andrea Cavazzoni, Graziana Digiacomo, Roberta Alfieri, Silvia La Monica, Claudia Fumarola, Maricla Galetti, Mara Bonelli, Daniele Cretella, Valeria Barili, Alessandra Zecca, Elisa Giovannetti, Michelangelo Fiorentino, Marcello Tiseo, Pier Giorgio Petronini, Andrea Ardizzoni

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Immunotherapy has significantly changed the treatment landscape for advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with the introduction of drugs targeting programmed cell death protein-1 (PD-1) and programmed cell death ligand-1 (PD-L1). In particular, the addition of the anti-PD-1 antibody pembrolizumab to platinum-pemetrexed chemotherapy resulted in a significantly improved overall survival in patients with non-squamous NSCLC, regardless of PD-L1 expression. In this preclinical study, we investigated whether chemotherapy can modulate PD-L1 expression in non-squamous NSCLC cell lines, thus potentially affecting immunotherapy efficacy. Among different chemotherapeutic agents tested, only pemetrexed increased PD-L1 levels by activating both mTOR/P70S6K and STAT3 pathways. Moreover, it also induced the secretion of cytokines, such as IFN-γ and IL-2, by activated peripheral blood mononuclear cells PBMCs that further stimulated the expression of PD-L1 on tumor cells, as demonstrated in a co-culture system. The anti-PD-1/PD-L1 therapy enhanced T cell-mediated cytotoxicity of NSCLC cells treated with pemetrexed and expressing high levels of PD-L1 in comparison with untreated cells. These data may explain the positive results obtained with pemetrexed-based chemotherapy combined with pembrolizumab in PD-L1-negative NSCLC and can support pemetrexed as one of the preferable chemotherapy partners for immunochemotherapy combination regimens.

Original languageEnglish
Article number666
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2020


  • Chemotherapy
  • IFN-γ
  • PD-L1
  • Pemetrexed

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