Background: Development of a practical and sensitive assay for evaluating immune responses against cancer Ag has been a challenge for immune monitoring of patients. We have established a reproducible method using peptide-pulsed K562-A*0201 cells as APC to expand Ag-specific T cells in vitro. This method may be applied for monitoring T-cell responses in cancer immunotherapy clinical trials.
Methods: Autologous PBMC from HLA-A*0201+ healthy donors and patients with melanoma were stimulated with peptide-pulsed K562-A*0201 cells under varying conditions. We investigated (1) different culture conditions, including the requirements for serum and cytokines for expansion of CD8+ T lymphocytes; (2) a range of peptide concentrations for Ag loading; (3) phenotypic characterization of responding T cells; and (4) APC:responder ratios and their effects on T-cell expansion. We validated these conditions by ELISPOT and intracellular cytokine staining (ICS) assays using peptides from influenza, Epslein-Barr Virus (EBV) and tyrosinase.
Results: Conditions for optimal T-cell expansion using K562-A*0201 APC included input of 2 x 10(6) PBMC, a 10 microg/mL peptide concentration to pulse K562-A*0201 cells, a 1:30 APC:responder T-cell ratio and culture in 10% autologous plasma supplemented with IL-2 and IL-15. In these conditions, Ag-specific T cells expanded >100-fold over a 10-day culture period (peak at day 12).
Discussion: This bulk culture method is simple and reliable for expanding human Ag-specific T cells using peptide-pulsed K562-A*0201 cells. This HLA-matched APC line can be adapted to other HLA haplotypes, and has advantages for monitoring clinical trials of immunotherapy with limited availability of autologous APC and PBMC from patients.