Over the last several years, there has been considerable progress in the treatment of cancer using gene modified adoptive T cell therapies. Two approaches have been used, one involving the introduction of a conventional αβ T cell receptor (TCR) against a pepMHC cancer antigen, and the second involving introduction of a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) consisting of a single-chain antibody as an Fv fragment linked to transmembrane and signaling domains. In this review, we focus on one aspect of TCR-mediated adoptive T cell therapies, the impact of the affinity of the αβ TCR for the pepMHC cancer antigen on both efficacy and specificity. We discuss the advantages of higher-affinity TCRs in mediating potent activity of CD4 T cells. This is balanced with the potential disadvantage of higher-affinity TCRs in mediating greater self-reactivity against a wider range of structurally similar antigenic peptides, especially in synergy with the CD8 co-receptor. Both TCR affinity and target selection will influence potential safety issues. We suggest pre-clinical strategies that might be used to examine each TCR for possible on-target and off-target side effects due to self-reactivities, and to adjust TCR affinities accordingly.
Keywords: T cell cross-reactivity; T cell sensitivity; TCR affinity; adoptive T cell therapy; tumor-associated epitopes.