Programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) is constitutively expressed by hypoxia-inducible factor 2α (HIF2α). It can be induced by interferon gamma (IFNγ) signaling in clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC). Clinical trials of metastatic ccRCCs have suggested that a canonical IFNγ signature is a better biomarker for therapeutic response to immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) than PD-L1 expression levels in tumor cells. To understand the therapeutic response to ICIs according to PD-L1 expression levels, we analyzed transcriptional regulation of the PD-L1 promoter by HIF2α and IFNγ-inducible interferon regulatory factor-1 (IRF-1) in ccRCC cells. Here, we present two ccRCC cell models showing differential PD-L1 expression levels in response to IFNγ and hypoxia. Analysis of The Cancer Genome Atlas RNA-sequencing data revealed that PD-L1 expression correlated with JAK2 and STAT1 expression of the canonical IFNγ signature in ccRCC tissues. Upon IFNγ stimulation, PD-L1 was induced by sequential activation of JAK2/STAT1/IRF-1 signaling in both WT- and Mut- VHL ccRCC cells. IFNγ activated the IRF-1α site of the PD-L1 promoter. The IFNγ-mediated increase of PD-L1 expression in Mut-VHL cells was 4.8-fold greater than that in WT-VHL cells. Under normoxia condition, PD-L1 expression in Mut-VHL cells was significantly higher than that in WT-VHL cells due to high basal HIF2α expression. Under hypoxia condition, PD-L1 expression in WT-VHL cells was induced up to 1.8-fold through activation of hypoxia-response elements 2 and 3. In contrast, although PD-L1 in Mut-VHL cells was already highly expressed in the basal state through activation of hypoxia-response elements 2, 3, and 4, it was no longer induced by hypoxia. In conclusion, Mut-VHL ccRCC cells displayed higher PD-L1 expression due to high basal HIF2α expression and a stronger response to IFNγ stimulation than WT-VHL cells. The fact that HIF2α antagonists can potentially reduce PD-L1 expression levels should be considered in ICI combination therapy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology