Split chimeric antigen receptor-modified T cells targeting glypican-3 suppress hepatocellular carcinoma growth with reduced cytokine release

Ther Adv Med Oncol. 2020 Mar 9;12:1758835920910347. doi: 10.1177/1758835920910347. eCollection 2020.


Background: Human glypican-3 (hGPC3) is a protein highly expressed in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) but limited in normal tissues, making it an ideal target for immunotherapy. The adoptive transfer of hGPC3-specific chimeric antigen receptor T (CAR-T) cells for HCC treatment has been conducted in clinical trials. Due to the rigid construction, conventional CAR-T cells have some intrinsic limitations, like uncontrollable overactivation and inducing severe cytokine release syndrome.

Methods: We redesigned the hGPC3-specific CAR by splitting the traditional CAR into two parts. By using coculturing assays and a xenograft mouse model, the in vitro and in vivo cytotoxicity and cytokine release of the split anti-hGPC3 CAR-T cells were evaluated against various HCC cell lines and compared with conventional CAR-T cells.

Results: In vitro data demonstrated that split anti-hGPC3 CAR-T cells could recognize and lyse hGPC3+ HepG2 and Huh7 cells in a dose-dependent manner. Impressively, split anti-hGPC3 CAR-T cells produced and released a significantly lower amount of proinflammatory cytokines, including IFN-γ, TNF-α, IL-6, and GM-CSF, than conventional CAR-T cells. When injected into immunodeficient mice inoculated subcutaneously with HepG2 cells, our split anti-hGPC3 CAR-T cells could suppress HCC tumor growth, but released significantly lower levels of cytokines than conventional CAR-T cells.

Conclusions: We describe here for the first time the use of split anti-hGPC3 CAR-T cells to treat HCC; split anti-hGPC3 CAR-T cells could suppress tumor growth and reduce cytokine release, and represent a more versatile and safer alternative to conventional CAR-T cells treatment.

Keywords: CAR-T cell therapy; adoptive cellular therapy; cytokine release syndrome; glypican-3; hepatocellular carcinoma; immunotherapy.