Therapeutic outcomes for adoptive cell transfer (ACT) therapy are constrained by the quality of the infused T cells. The rapid expansion necessary to obtain large numbers of cells results in a more terminally differentiated phenotype with decreased durability and functionality. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) protects against activation-induced cell death (AICD) and improves anti-tumor efficacy of Pmel-1 T cells in vivo. Here, we show that these benefits of NAC can be extended to engineered T cells and significantly increases T-cell survival within the tumor microenvironment. The addition of NAC to the expansion protocol of human TIL13838I TCR-transduced T cells that are under evaluation in a Phase I clinical trial, demonstrated that findings in murine cells extend to human cells. Expansion of TIL13838I TCR-transduced T cells in NAC also increased their ability to kill target cells in vitro. Interestingly, NAC did not affect memory subsets, but diminished up-regulation of senescence (CD57) and exhaustion (PD-1) markers and significantly decreased expression of the transcription factors EOMES and Foxo1. Pharmacological inhibition of the PI3K/Akt pathway ablates the decrease in Foxo1 induced by NAC treatment of activated T cells. This suggests a model in which NAC through PI3K/Akt activation suppresses Foxo1 expression, thereby impacting its transcriptional targets EOMES, PD-1, and granzyme B. Taken together, our results indicate that NAC exerts pleiotropic effects that impact the quality of TCR-transduced T cells and suggest that the addition of NAC to current clinical protocols should be considered.
Keywords: Adoptive T-cell therapy; Akt; Cell death; Foxo1; N-acetyl-cysteine; PD1.