The therapeutic success of adoptive therapy with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) engineered T cells depends on the appropriate costimulation of CD3ζ to induce full T cell activation. Costimulatory endodomains of the CD28 family are therefore fused with CD3ζ in a dual signalling CAR. Serious adverse events in two most recent trials; however, highlight the need to analyse in more detail the impact of each costimulatory endodomain on individual effector functions of redirected T cells. We therefore performed a thoroughly controlled side-by-side comparison of the most frequently used endodomains with respect to their impact on CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cell effector functions. CD28 reinforced T cell proliferation and is mandatory to induce IL-2. In the absence of added IL-2, CD28 and OX40 (CD137) but not 4-1BB (CD134) enhanced specific cytolysis. While CD28, 4-1BB and OX40 similarly improved pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion, OX40 most efficiently prevented activation induced cell death of CD62L(-) effector memory T cells. CD28 was superior to initiate the T cell response, OX40 and 4-1BB sustained the response in long term with OX40 being most effective. We consequently combined the beneficial functions in a 3rd generation CD28-OX40 CAR which substantially improved the antitumor response without loosing specificity.
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