Genetically Engineered T-Cells for Malignant Glioma: Overcoming the Barriers to Effective Immunotherapy

Front Immunol. 2019 Jan 22;9:3062. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.03062. eCollection 2018.


Malignant gliomas carry a dismal prognosis. Conventional treatment using chemo- and radiotherapy has limited efficacy with adverse events. Therapy with genetically engineered T-cells, such as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells, may represent a promising approach to improve patient outcomes owing to their potential ability to attack highly infiltrative tumors in a tumor-specific manner and possible persistence of the adaptive immune response. However, the unique anatomical features of the brain and susceptibility of this organ to irreversible tissue damage have made immunotherapy especially challenging in the setting of glioma. With safety concerns in mind, multiple teams have initiated clinical trials using CAR T-cells in glioma patients. The valuable lessons learnt from those trials highlight critical areas for further improvement: tackling the issues of the antigen presentation and T-cell homing in the brain, immunosuppression in the glioma microenvironment, antigen heterogeneity and off-tumor toxicity, and the adaptation of existing clinical therapies to reflect the intricacies of immune response in the brain. This review summarizes the up-to-date clinical outcomes of CAR T-cell clinical trials in glioma patients and examines the most pressing hurdles limiting the efficacy of these therapies. Furthermore, this review uses these hurdles as a framework upon which to evaluate cutting-edge pre-clinical strategies aiming to overcome those barriers.

Keywords: CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T cells; Glioblastoma; Glioma; T lymphocyte; TCR - T cell receptor; brain cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / immunology
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Brain Neoplasms / genetics
  • Brain Neoplasms / immunology
  • Brain Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Glioma / genetics
  • Glioma / immunology
  • Glioma / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / adverse effects
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / methods*
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen / genetics*
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / transplantation
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Escape / immunology


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen