Background: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-driven posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorders (PTLD) affect 2%-27% of solid organ transplant (SOT) recipients. Adoptive immunotherapy may have therapeutic potential in this setting, but there is little experience in generating autologous EBV-specific cytotoxic T-cell lymphocytes (EBV-CTLs) from SOT recipients, and their efficacy and persistence in an immunosuppressed environment is unknown.
Methods: EBV-CTLs were generated from eight SOT recipients, using weekly stimulations with autologous lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) and interleukin-2. CTL phenotype and function were evaluated in the presence of therapeutic concentration of cyclosporin A or FK506.
Results: In all cases, CTLs expanded with normal kinetics. The majority was CD3+CD8+ (mean, 76%), with less than 3% of natural killer cells. All ex vivo-generated CTLs produced significantly higher killing of autologous LCLs than of HLA-mismatched LCLs (mean, 56% vs. 14% at 20:1 ratio). No lysis of autologous or allogeneic PHA blasts was observed. The CTL expansion rate was reduced in a concentration-dependent manner in the presence of immunosuppressive drugs; however, neither lytic activity nor phenotype was affected.
Conclusions: Using methods that are approved for clinical application, EBV-CTLs can be generated from SOT recipients, even those with frank lymphoma, or who are receiving immunosuppressive drugs. These CTLs retain their function in the presence of immunosuppressive agents. Although in vivo efficacy, safety, and persistence can be assessed only in clinical trials, our results suggest that CTLs can be effective for the treatment of PTLD, even when immunosuppression cannot be reduced because of the high risk of graft rejection.