A major factor hindering the exploration of adoptive immunotherapy in preclinical settings is the limited availability of tumor-reactive human T cells. Here we developed a humanized mouse model that permits large-scale production of human T cells expressing the engineered melanoma antigen MART-1-specific TCR. Humanized mice, made by transplantation of human fetal thymic tissue and CD34+ cells virally-transduced with HLA class I-restricted melanoma antigen (MART-1)-specific TCR gene, showed efficient development of MART-1-TCR+ human T cells with predominantly CD8+ cells. Importantly, MART-1-TCR+CD8+ T cells developing in these mice were capable of mounting antigen-specific responses in vivo, as evidenced by their proliferation, phenotypic conversion and IFN-γ production following MART-1 peptide immunization. Moreover, these MART-1-TCR+CD8+ T cells mediated efficient killing of melanoma cells in an HLA/antigen-dependent manner. Adoptive transfer of in vitro expanded MART-1-TCR+CD8+ T cells induced potent antitumor responses that were further enhanced by IL-15 treatment in melanoma-bearing recipients. Finally, a short incubation of MART-1-specific T cells with rapamycin acted synergistically with IL-15, leading to significantly improved tumor-free survival in recipients with metastatic melanoma. These data demonstrate the practicality of using humanized mice to produce potentially unlimited source of tumor-specific human T cells for experimental and preclinical exploration of cancer immunotherapy. This study also suggests that pretreatment of tumor-reactive T cells with rapamycin in combination with IL-15 administration may be a novel strategy to improve the efficacy of adoptive T cell therapy.
Keywords: Immune response; Immunity; Immunology and Microbiology Section; T cells; TCR; animal model; immunotherapy; melanoma.