Overcoming target epitope masking resistance that can occur on low-antigen-expresser AML blasts after IL-1RAP chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy using the inducible caspase 9 suicide gene safety switch

Cancer Gene Ther. 2021 Dec;28(12):1365-1375. doi: 10.1038/s41417-020-00284-3. Epub 2021 Jan 7.


Although chimeric antigen receptor CAR) T cell immunotherapies are an undeniable and unequivocal success, knowledge obtained from the monitoring of the first clinical trials targeting the CD19 antigen in B malignancies, either refractory/relapsed acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL) or lymphomas, contributed to the identification of tumor cell escape in about 30-50% of B-ALL. Resistance occurred due to loss of surface expression of the antigen (rCD19-) or to the early disappearance or inactivation of CAR T cells (rCD19+). In a recently reported clinical case, rCD19- relapse resulted from masking of the antigen by the CAR at the surface of B-ALL leukemia cells following the unexpected viral transduction of a leukemic cell present in the cytapheresis sample. The objective of this work was to reproduce this epitope-masking resistance model, in the context of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), based on our immunotherapeutic CAR T cell model targeting the accessory protein of the interleukin-1 receptor (IL-1RAP) expressed by leukemic stem cells. As AML primary blasts express different levels of IL-1RAP, we modeled transduction of different AML tumor cell lines screened for density of antigenic sites with our lentiviral vectors carrying a third-generation IL-1RAP CAR, an iCASP9 suicide gene, and a truncated CD19 surface gene. We demonstrated that primary AML blasts can be easily transduced (74.55 ± 21.29%, n = 4) and that CAR T cytotoxicity to IL-1RAP is inversely correlated with epitope masking in relation to the number of antigenic sites expressed on the surface of IL-1RAP+ lines. Importantly, we showed that, in vitro, a 24-h exposure of IL-1RAP+/CAR+ leukemia lines to Rimiducid eliminated >85% of the cells. We confirmed that the expression of IL-1RAP CAR by an IL-1RAP+ leukemic cell, by decreasing the membrane availability of the targeted antigen, can induce resistance while a high epitope density maintains sensitivity to CAR T cells. Moreover, the presence of the iCASP9/Rimiducid suicide system safety switch makes this immunotherapy approach safe for application in a future phase 1 clinical trial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caspase 9 / metabolism*
  • Cell- and Tissue-Based Therapy / methods*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epitopes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Interleukin-1 / metabolism*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Epitopes
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen
  • Receptors, Interleukin-1
  • Caspase 9