Introduction: Whether immunohistochemical staining of programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) on cells of pleural effusion could be used to predict response to immunotherapy treatment has not been reported. Methods: We retrospectively enrolled patients who had undergone malignant pleural effusion drainage and had effusion cell block specimens from 2014 to 2016. Immunohistochemical staining for PD-L1 was performed with tumor cells, immune cells, and macrophages of all cell block specimens. Immunoactivity was scored as 0 for absence of staining and 1+ for faint, 2+ for moderate, and 3+ for intense membranous staining. Patients’ clinicopathological characteristics were also collected. Results: PD-L1 expression of pleural effusion tumor cells was associated with the PD-L1 expression of macrophages (p = 0.003) and immune cells (p < 0.001). However, the PD-L1 expression of immune cells was not associated with that of macrophages. The PD-L1 expression of tumor cells was correlated with sex (p = 0.012), smoking status (p = 0.032), and Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance status (p = 0.017). The PD-L1 expression of immune cells was associated with the overall survival of patients (p = 0.004). Conclusions: These results suggest that there might be an immune interaction between pleural effusion tumor cells and macrophages. The low intensity of PD-L1 expression in immune cells is associated with the poor survival of patients with lung cancer with malignant pleural effusion.
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