Targeting PD-1 and Tim-3 Pathways to Reverse CD8 T-Cell Exhaustion and Enhance Ex Vivo T-Cell Responses to Autologous Dendritic/Tumor Vaccines

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The paradoxical coexistence of spontaneous tumor antigen-specific immune response with progressive disease in cancer patients need to dissect the molecular pathways involved in tumor-induced T-cell dysfunction or exhaustion. Programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) has been identified as a marker of exhausted T cells in chronic disease states, and blockade of PD-1-PD-L1 interactions has been shown to partially restore T-cell function. We have found that T-cell immunoglobulin mucin (Tim) 3 is expressed on CD8+ tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) isolated from patients with colorectal cancer. All T-cell immunoglobulin mucin 3 (Tim-3+) TILs coexpress PD-1, and Tim-3+PD-1+CD8+TILs represent the predominant fraction of Tcells infiltrating tumors. Tim-3+PD-1+CD8+TILs exhibit the most severe exhausted phenotype as defined by failure to produce cytokines, such as interferon-γ, tumor necrosis factor-α, and interleukin-2. We further find that combined targeting of the Tim-3 and PD-1 pathways increased the frequencies of not only interferon-γ and tumor necrosis factor-α but also frequencies of proliferating tumor antigen-specific CD8+ T cells than targeting either pathway alone. A concomitant decrease in regulatory T cells and enhanced killing in a cytotoxicity assay was observed. Collectively, our findings support the use of Tim-3-Tim-3L blockade together with PD-1-PD-L1 blockade to reverse tumor-induced T-cell exhaustion/dysfunction in patients with colorectal cancer.

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