High specificity in circulating tumor cell identification is required for accurate evaluation of programmed death-ligand 1

Jennifer L. Schehr, Zachery D. Schultz, Jay W. Warrick, David J. Guckenberger, Hannah M. Pezzi, Jamie M. Sperger, Erika Heninger, Anwaar Saeed, Ticiana Leal, Kara Mattox, Anne M. Traynor, Toby C. Campbell, Scott M. Berry, David J. Beebe, Joshua M. Lang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Background Expression of programmed-death ligand 1 (PD-L1) in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is typically evaluated through invasive biopsies; however, recent advances in the identification of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) may be a less invasive method to assay tumor cells for these purposes. These liquid biopsies rely on accurate identification of CTCs from the diverse populations in the blood, where some tumor cells share characteristics with normal blood cells. While many blood cells can be excluded by their high expression of CD45, neutrophils and other immature myeloid subsets have low to absent expression of CD45 and also express PD-L1. Furthermore, cytokeratin is typically used to identify CTCs, but neutrophils may stain non-specifically for intracellular antibodies, including cytokeratin, thus preventing accurate evaluation of PD-L1 expression on tumor cells. This holds even greater significance when evaluating PD-L1 in epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) positive and EpCAM negative CTCs (as in epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT)). Methods To evaluate the impact of CTC misidentification on PD-L1 evaluation, we utilized CD11b to identify myeloid cells. CTCs were isolated from patients with metastatic NSCLC using EpCAM, MUC1 or Vimentin capture antibodies and exclusion-based sample preparation (ESP) technology. Results Large populations of CD11b+ CD45lo cells were identified in buffy coats and stained nonspecifically for intracellular antibodies including cytokeratin. The amount of CD11b+ cells misidentified as CTCs varied among patients; accounting for 33-100% of traditionally identified CTCs. Cells captured with vimentin had a higher frequency of CD11b+ cells at 41%, compared to 20% and 18% with MUC1 or EpCAM, respectively. Cells misidentified as CTCs ultimately skewed PD-L1 expression to varying degrees across patient samples. Conclusions Interfering myeloid populations can be differentiated from true CTCs with additional staining criteria, thus improving the specificity of CTC identification and the accuracy of biomarker evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0159397
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Schehr et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)
  • General


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