Background: Immunotherapeutic cancer protocols often rely on the ability to promote proliferative expansion of tumor-specific T-cell, but the influence of cancer on in vivo T-cell expansion remains largely undefined.
Methods: The ability of control and B16F10 melanoma-bearing C57BL/6 mice to expand lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus antigen-specific T-cell populations in response to acute viral infection was compared by using flow cytometric assays of splenocytes.
Results: The ability to expand virus-specific CD8+ and CD4+ T-cells was globally and markedly suppressed in tumor-bearing mice. Expanded cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) retained in vivo and in vitro functionality, suggesting that melanoma growth did not induce T-cell anergy. The magnitude of suppressed proliferative expansion was proportional to the extent of tumor burden. Melanoma-induced suppression of CTL expansion was correlated with upregulated apoptotic activity and hampered the induction of memory precursor effector cells. Adoptive transfer of resting LCMV antigen-specific T-cells before or after tumor establishment demonstrated that a critical period of in vivo exposure of resting T-cells to growing melanoma was responsible for the induction of suppressed expansion. This suppression was durable; surgical resection of melanoma after in vivo exposure to resting T-cells but before antigenic stimulation did not restore full expansion.
Conclusions: These data suggest that growing melanoma tumors exert a global, antigen-independent influence on resting T-cells that fundamentally reprograms their ability to undergo proliferative expansion in response to subsequent antigenic stimulation. This finding may have direct implications for T-cell-based immunotherapeutic strategies.