4-1BB Costimulation of Effector T Cells for Adoptive Immunotherapy of Cancer: Involvement of Bcl Gene Family Members

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We previously reported that in vitro costimulation of murine MCA 205 tumor-draining lymph node (TDLN) cells through a third signal, 4-1BB (CD137), in addition to CD3 and CD28 engagement significantly increases T-cell yield and amplifies antitumor responses in adoptive therapy. The increased T-cell yield seemed to be related to inhibition of activation-induced cell death. In this study, using real time-polymerase chain reaction and intracellular staining, we tested our hypothesis that antiapoptotic Bcl gene members are modulated in 4-1BB ligated TDLN cells. TDLN cells activated through 4-1BB in conjunction with CD3/CD28 demonstrated elevated Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL gene and protein expression compared with CD3/CD28 activation. Furthermore, Bcl-2 and/or Bcl-xL inhibition abrogated 4-1BB–conferred rescue of activation-induced cell death in TDLN cells, and as a result, 4-1BB–enhanced TDLN cell yield was abolished. Congenic mice were used as donors for TDLN cells labeled with CFSE to evaluate proliferation and persistence of activated cells after intravenous adoptive transfer. The effector function of transferred cells was assessed by determining the incidence of interferon-γ–producing cells in response to tumor stimulation in serial blood samples drawn from treated mice using intracellular cytokine staining. CD28 and CD28/4-1BB costimulation significantly enhanced in vivo proliferation and survival of the infused cells compared with CD3 activation. 4-1BB coligation augmented the proliferation and effector function of the infused cells compared with both CD3 and CD3/CD28-activated cells. Characterizing the function of signaling molecules involved in T-cell activation pathways may allow optimization of conditions in the generation of effector T cells for cancer immunotherapy.

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