Tumour-specific CD4 T cells eradicate melanoma via indirect recognition of tumour-derived antigen

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The importance of CD4 T cells in tumour immunity has been increasingly recognised, with recent reports describing robust CD4 T cell-dependent tumour control in mice whose immune-regulatory mechanisms have been disturbed by irradiation, chemotherapy, immunomodulatory therapy and/or constitutive immunodeficiency. Tumour control in such models has been attributed in large part to direct Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) class II-dependent CD4 T cell killing of tumour cells. To test whether CD4 T cells can eradicate tumours without directly killing tumour cells, we developed an animal model in which tumour-derived antigen could be presented to T-cell receptor (TCR)-transgenic CD4 T cells by host but not tumour MHC class II molecules. In I-E+ mice bearing I-Enull tumours, naive I-E-restricted CD4 T cells proliferated locally in tumour-draining lymph nodes after recognising tumour-derived antigen on migratory dendritic cells. In lymphopaenic but not immunosufficient hosts, CD4 T cells differentiated into polarised T helper type 1 (Th1) cells expressing interferon gamma (IFNγ), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) and interleukin (IL)-2 but little IL-17, and cleared established tumours. Tumour clearance was enhanced by higher TCR affinity for tumour antigen-MHC class II and was critically dependent on IFNγ, as demonstrated by early tumour escape in animals treated with an IFNγ blocking antibody. Thus, CD4 T cells and IFNγ can control tumour growth without direct T-cell killing of tumour cells, and without requiring additional adaptive immune cells such as CD8 T cells and B cells. Our results support a role for effective CD4 T cell-dependent tumour immunity against MHC class II-negative tumours.

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