Costimulation Through the CD137/4-1BB Pathway Protects Human Melanoma Tumor-infiltrating Lymphocytes From Activation-induced Cell Death and Enhances Antitumor Effector Function


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Abstract

Adoptive T-cell therapy (ACT) using expanded tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) with high-dose interleukin-2 is a promising form of immunotherapy for stage IV melanoma having clinical response rates of 50% or more. One of the major problems preventing further success of this therapy is that the current protocols used to highly expand TIL for infusion drive CD8+ T cells to differentiate into effector cells losing key costimulatory molecules such as CD28 and CD27. This has been associated with a lack of persistence in vivo for reasons not entirely clear. In this study, we demonstrate that while human melanoma CD8+ TIL lost CD27 and CD28 expression during the rapid expansion for ACT, they gained expression of the alternative costimulatory molecule CD137/4-1BB, and to a lesser extent CD134/OX40. Postrapid expansion protocol (REP) TIL were found to be highly sensitive to activation-induced cell death when reactivated through the T-cell receptor with low levels of OKT3 antibody. However, coligation of 4-1BB using 2 different agonistic anti-4-1BB antibodies potently prevented activation-induced cell death of post-REP CD8+ TIL, including those specific for melanoma antigen recognized by T cells, and facilitated even further cell expansion. This was correlated with increased levels of bcl-2 and bcl-xL together with decreased bim expression. 4-1BB costimulated post-REP TIL also expressed increased levels of the cytolytic granule proteins and exhibited enhanced cytotoxic T-cell activity against melanoma cells. Lastly, post-REP CD8+ TIL were protected from cell death by anti-4-1BB ligation when exposed to human leukocyte antigen-matched melanoma cells. Our results indicate that 4-1BB costimulation may significantly improve TIL survival during melanoma ACT and boost antitumor cytolytic activity.

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