BRCA1-mediated homologous recombination is an important DNA repair mechanism that is the target of FDA-approved PARP inhibitors, yet details of BRCA1-mediated functions remain to be fully elucidated. Similarly, immune checkpoint molecules are targets of FDA-approved cancer immunotherapies, but the biological and mechanistic consequences of their application are incompletely understood. We show here that the immune checkpoint molecule PD-L1 regulates homologous recombination in cancer cells by promoting BRCA1 nuclear foci formation and DNA end resection. Genetic depletion of tumor PD-L1 reduced homologous recombination, increased nonhomologous end joining, and elicited synthetic lethality to PARP inhibitors olaparib and talazoparib in vitro in some, but not all, BRCA1 wild-type tumor cells. In vivo, genetic depletion of tumor PD-L1 rendered olaparib-resistant tumors sensitive to olaparib. In contrast, anti-PD-L1 immune checkpoint blockade neither enhanced olaparib synthetic lethality nor improved its efficacy in vitro or in wild-type mice. Tumor PD-L1 did not alter expression of BRCA1 or its cofactor BARD1 but instead coimmunoprecipitated with BARD1 and increased BRCA1 nuclear accumulation. Tumor PD-L1 depletion enhanced tumor CCL5 expression and TANK-binding kinase 1 activation in vitro, similar to known immune-potentiating effects of PARP inhibitors. Collectively, these data define immune-dependent and immune-independent effects of PARP inhibitor treatment and genetic tumor PD-L1 depletion. Moreover, they implicate a tumor cell–intrinsic, immune checkpoint–independent function of PD-L1 in cancer cell BRCA1-mediated DNA damage repair with translational potential, including as a treatment response biomarker.


PD-L1 upregulates BRCA1-mediated homologous recombination, and PD-L1–deficient tumors exhibit BRCAness by manifesting synthetic lethality in response to PARP inhibitors, revealing an exploitable therapeutic vulnerability and a candidate treatment response biomarker.

See related commentary by Hanks, p. 2069

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