Aims Programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) immunostaining is used to predict which non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients will respond best to treatment with programmed cell death protein 1/PD-L1 inhibitors. PD-L1 immunostaining is sometimes performed on alcohol-fixed cytological specimens instead of on formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) biopsies or resections. We studied whether ethanol prefixation of clots from endobronchial ultrasound-guided transbronchial needle aspiration (EBUS-TBNA) results in diminished PD-L1 immunostaining as compared with formalin fixation.
Methods and results FFPE cell blocks from EBUS-TBNA specimens of 54 NSCLC patients were identified. For each case, paired samples were available, consisting of clots directly immersed in formalin and clots prefixed in Fixcyt (50% ethanol). Serial sections were immunostained for PD-L1 by use of the standardised SP263 assay and the 22C3 antibody as a laboratory-developed test (LDT). PD-L1 positivity was determined with two cut-offs (1% and 50%). Concordance of PD-L1 positivity between the formalin-fixed (gold standard) and ethanol-prefixed material was assessed. When the 22C3 LDT was used, 30% and 36% of the ethanol-prefixed specimens showed false-negative results at the 1% and 50% cut-offs, respectively (kappa 0.64 and 0.68). When SP263 was used, 22% of the ethanol-prefixed specimens showed false-negative results at the 1% cut-off (kappa 0.67). At the 50% cut-off, concordance was higher (kappa 0.91), with 12% of the ethanol-prefixed specimens showing false-negative results.
Conclusion Ethanol fixation of EBUS-TBNA specimens prior to formalin fixation can result in a considerable number of false-negative PD-L1 immunostaining results when a 1% cut-off is used and immunostaining is performed with SP263 or the 22C3 LDT. The same applies to use of the 50% cut-off when immunostaining is performed with the 22C3 LDT.