Reprogramming CD19-specific T cells with IL-21 signaling can improve adoptive immunotherapy of B-lineage malignancies

Harjeet Singh, Matthew J Figliola, Margaret J Dawson, Helen Huls, Simon Olivares, Kirsten Switzer, Tiejuan Mi, Sourindra Maiti, Partow Kebriaei, Dean A Lee, Richard E Champlin, Laurence J N Cooper
Cancer Research 2011 May 15, 71 (10): 3516-27
Improving the therapeutic efficacy of T cells expressing a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) represents an important goal in efforts to control B-cell malignancies. Recently an intrinsic strategy has been developed to modify the CAR itself to improve T-cell signaling. Here we report a second extrinsic approach based on altering the culture milieu to numerically expand CAR(+) T cells with a desired phenotype, for the addition of interleukin (IL)-21 to tissue culture improves CAR-dependent T-cell effector functions. We used electrotransfer of Sleeping Beauty system to introduce a CAR transposon and selectively propagate CAR(+) T cells on CD19(+) artificial antigen-presenting cells (aAPC). When IL-21 was present, there was preferential numeric expansion of CD19-specific T cells which lysed and produced IFN-γ in response to CD19. Populations of these numerically expanded CAR(+) T cells displayed an early memory surface phenotype characterized as CD62L(+)CD28(+) and a transcriptional profile of naïve T cells. In contrast, T cells propagated with only exogenous IL-2 tended to result in an overgrowth of CD19-specific CD4(+) T cells. Furthermore, adoptive transfer of CAR(+) T cells cultured with IL-21 exhibited improved control of CD19(+) B-cell malignancy in mice. To provide coordinated signaling to propagate CAR(+) T cells, we developed a novel mutein of IL-21 bound to the cell surface of aAPC that replaced the need for soluble IL-21. Our findings show that IL-21 can provide an extrinsic reprogramming signal to generate desired CAR(+) T cells for effective immunotherapy.

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