The Evolving Protein Engineering in the Design of Chimeric Antigen Receptor T Cells

Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Dec 27;21(1):204. doi: 10.3390/ijms21010204.


The clinical success of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell immunotherapy in the treatment of haematological cancers has encouraged the extensive development of CAR design to improve their function and increase their applicability. Advancements in protein engineering have seen modifications to both the ecto- and endo-domains of the CAR, with recent designs targeting multiple antigens and including inducible elements. These developments are likely to play an important role in inducing effective CAR T cell responses in a solid tumour context, where clinical responses have not been effective to date. This review highlights the spectrum of novel strategies being employed in CAR design, including for example variations in targeting tumour antigens by utilising different ectodomain designs such as dual chain CARs, natural receptor or ligand-based CARs, and T cell receptor fusion constructs, and also reviews some of the innovative approaches to a "universal" CAR and various multi-antigen targeting CAR strategies. We also explore how choices in the endodomain impact CAR function and how these need to be considered in the overall CAR design.

Keywords: T cell receptor fusion constructs (TRuCs); affinity tuning; bispecific T cell engagers (BiTEs); chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR T cells); dual CAR T cells; dual chain CAR T cells (dcCAR); immunotherapy; ligand-based CAR T cells; tandem CARs (tanCARs); universal immune receptors (UIR).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / methods
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Protein Engineering / methods
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology*
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen