TCR engagement negatively affects CD8 but not CD4 CAR T cell expansion and leukemic clearance

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Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)–expressing T cells induce durable remissions in patients with relapsed/refractory B cell malignancies. CARs are synthetic constructs that, when introduced into mature T cells, confer a second, non–major histocompatibility complex–restricted specificity in addition to the endogenous T cell receptor (TCR). The implications of TCR activation on CAR T cell efficacy has not been well defined. Using an immunocompetent, syngeneic murine model of CD19-targeted CAR T cell therapy for pre–B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in which the CAR is introduced into T cells with known TCR specificity, we demonstrate loss of CD8 CAR T cell efficacy associated with T cell exhaustion and apoptosis when TCR antigen is present. CD4 CAR T cells demonstrate equivalent cytotoxicity to CD8 CAR T cells and, in contrast, retain in vivo efficacy despite TCR stimulation. Gene expression profiles confirm increased exhaustion and apoptosis of CD8 CAR T cells upon dual receptor stimulation compared to CD4 CAR T cells and indicate inherent differences between CD4 and CD8 CAR T cells in the use of T cell–associated signaling pathways. These results provide insights into important aspects of CAR T cell immune biology and indicate opportunities to rationally design CAR constructs to optimize clinical efficacy.

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