Scoring of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in breast cancer specimens has gained increasing attention, as TILs have prognostic and predictive value in HER2+ and triple-negative breast cancer. We evaluated the intra- and interrater variability when scoring TILs by visual inspection of hematoxylin and eosin-stained tissue sections. We further addressed whether immunohistochemical staining of these sections for immune cell surface markers CD45, CD3, CD4, and CD8 and combination with nanoString nCounter® gene expression analysis could refine TIL scoring. Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded and fresh-frozen core needle biopsies of 12 female and treatment-naive breast cancer patients were included. Scoring of TILs was performed twice by three independent pathologists with a washout period of 3 days. Increasing intra- and interrater variability was observed with higher TIL numbers. The highest reproducibility was observed on tissue sections stained for CD3 and CD8. The latter TIL scores correlated well with the TIL scores obtained through nanoString nCounter® gene expression analysis. Gene expression analysis also revealed 104 and 62 genes that are positively and negatively related to both TIL scores. In conclusion, integration of immunohistochemistry and gene expression analysis is a valuable strategy to refine TIL scoring in breast tumors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number794175
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - 11 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2022 Locy, Verhulst, Cools, Waelput, Brock, Cras, Schiettecatte, Jonckheere, van Grunsven, Vanhoeij, Thielemans and Breckpot.


  • breast cancer
  • gene expression profiling
  • immunohistochemistry
  • immunotherapy targets
  • tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte


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