Background aims: Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells have achieved favorable responses in patients with hematologic malignancies, but the outcome has been far from satisfactory in the treatment of tumors with high expression of immunosuppressive molecules. To overcome this limitation, we modified CAR T cells to secrete types of human soluble programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) called sPD-1 CAR T cells.
Methods: To compare the effector function between second (conventional second-generation CAR targeting CD19) and sPD-1 CAR T cells, we measured cytotoxicity, cytokine secretion and activation markers incubated with or without tumor cells expressing CD19 and/or programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1). Furthermore, the anti-tumor efficacy of second and sPD-1 CAR T cells was determined using an NSG mouse model bearing NALM-6-PD-L1. Finally, the underlying mechanism was investigated by metabolic parameters and RNA sequencing analysis of different CAR T cells.
Results: Compared with second CAR T cells, sPD-1 CAR T cells enhanced killing efficiency toward CD19+PD-L1+ tumor cells in vitro. Furthermore, sPD-1 CAR T cells reduced the tumor burden and prolonged overall survival of the NSG (NOD-SCID-IL2rg) mice bearing NALM-6-PD-L1. To explore the effect of soluble PD-1 on CAR T cells, we found that sPD-1 CAR T cells exhibited higher levels of activation and ameliorative profiles of differentiation, exhaustion, glycolysis and apoptosis.
Conclusions: With constitutive soluble PD-1 secretion, sPD-1 CAR T cells have tended to eradicate tumors with a high expression of PD-L1 more effectively than second CAR T cells. This may be due to soluble PD-1 enhancing apoptosis resistance, aerobic metabolism and a more "stem" differentiation of CAR T cells. Overall, our study presents a feasible strategy to increase the efficacy of CAR T cells.
Keywords: chimeric antigen receptor T cell; immunotherapy; soluble PD-1; tumor microenvironment.
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