Background: HHLA2 is a recently discovered member of the B7-family of immune checkpoint molecules with limited expression in normal tissues but overexpression in several types of cancer. The aim was to determine the expression, prevalence and biological relevance of HHLA2 protein expression in two closely related human cancer types, namely pancreatic cancer and ampullary cancer.
Methods: HHLA2 expression levels were retrospectively determined by immunohistochemistry in tissue micro-arrays of surgically resected tumours of 122 pancreatic cancer patients and 72 patients with ampullary cancer of the pancreato-biliary subtype.
Results: HHLA2 was expressed at variable levels by tumour cells in 67% of pancreatic tumours and 93% of ampullary tumours. In the combined cohort high tumoural HHLA2 expression levels were significantly associated with delayed cancer recurrence and improved post-operative cancer-specific survival. The association of HHLA2 expression with cancer-specific survival and recurrence was statistically significant for the pancreatic cancer subgroup while a similar trend was found for the ampullary cancer subgroup. In multivariable analysis together with clinicopathologic characteristics, higher HHLA2 expression was an independent predictor of cancer-specific survival.
**Conclusion:**The wide expression of HHLA2 in tumour cells and its association with cancer recurrence and patient survival suggest that HHLA2 represents a relevant immune checkpoint molecule in pancreatic and ampullary cancers.