Leveraging TCR Affinity in Adoptive Immunotherapy against Shared Tumor/Self-Antigens

Cancer Immunol Res. 2019 Jan;7(1):40-49. doi: 10.1158/2326-6066.CIR-18-0371. Epub 2018 Nov 27.


Adoptive cellular therapy (ACT) using T-cell receptor (TCR)-engineered lymphocytes holds promise for eradication of disseminated tumors but also an inherent risk of pathologic autoimmunity if targeted antigens or antigenic mimics are expressed by normal tissues. We evaluated whether modulating TCR affinity could allow CD8+ T cells to control tumor outgrowth without inducing concomitant autoimmunity in a preclinical murine model of ACT. RIP-mOVA mice express a membrane-bound form of chicken ovalbumin (mOVA) as a self-antigen in kidney and pancreas. Such mice were implanted with OVA-expressing ID8 ovarian carcinoma cells and subsequently treated with CD8+ T lymphocytes (CTL) expressing either a high-affinity (OT-I) or low-affinity (OT-3) OVA-specific TCR. The effects on tumor growth versus organ-specific autoimmunity were subsequently monitored. High-affinity OT-I CTLs underwent activation and proliferation in both tumor-draining and pancreatic lymph nodes, leading to both rapid eradication of ID8-OVA tumors and autoimmune diabetes in all treated mice. Remarkably, the low-affinity OT-3 T cells were activated only by tumor-derived antigen and mediated transient regression of ID8-OVA tumors without concomitant autoimmunity. The OT-3 cells eventually upregulated inhibitory receptors PD-1, TIM-3, and LAG-3 and became functionally unresponsive, however, allowing the tumors in treated mice to reestablish progressive growth. Antibody-mediated blockade of the inhibitory receptors prevented exhaustion and allowed tumor clearance, but these mice also developed autoimmune diabetes. The findings reveal that low-affinity TCRs can mediate tumor regression and that functional avidity can discriminate between tumor-derived and endogenous antigen, while highlighting the risks involved in immune-checkpoint blockade on endogenous self-reactive T cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Allergens / immunology
  • Animals
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology*
  • Autoantigens / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cell Line
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / immunology
  • Female
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Ovalbumin / immunology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology*


  • Allergens
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Autoantigens
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Ovalbumin