Background: The ability to expand virus- or tumor-specific T cells without damaging their functional capabilities is critical for success adoptive transfer immunotherapy of patients with opportunistic infection or tumor. Careful comparisons can help identify expansion methods better suited for particular clinical settings and identify recurrent deficiencies requiring new innovation.
Methods: We compared the efficacy of magnetic beads coated with anti-CD3 and anti-CD28 (anti-CD3/CD28 beads), and soluble anti-CD3 plus mixed mononuclear cells (designated a rapid expansion protocol or REP) in expanding normal human T cells.
Results: Both anti-CD3/CD28 beads and soluble anti-CD3 promoted extensive expansion. Beads stimulated greater CD4 cell growth (geometric mean of 56- versus 27-fold (p < 0.01) at day 21) but both stimulated similar CD8 expansion (189- versus 186-fold). Phenotypically, bead-treated CD4 and CD8 T cells and anti-CD3-treated CD4 cells typically assumed an effector/effector memory phenotype by day 14. By comparison, a subset of anti-CD3-treated CD8 cells, derived from naïve cells, retained much greater expression of CD45RA, CD27 and CCR7, than matched bead-treated cells despite comparable expansion. These cells were clearly distinguishable from CD45RA+ terminally differentiated effector cells by the presence of CD27, the absence of CD57 and their inability to produce cytokines after stimulation. When used to expand previously stimulated cells, anti-CD3 plus autologous MNCs produced much less antigen-induced cell death of CD8 cells and significantly more CD8 expansion than beads.
Conclusions: Anti-CD3/CD28 beads are highly effective for expanding CD4 cells, but soluble anti-CD3 has significant potential advantages for expanding CD8 T cells, particularly where preservation of phenotypically "young" CD8 cells would be desirable, or where the T cells of interest have been antigen-stimulated in vitro or in vivo in the recent past.