Cell based immunotherapy is rapidly emerging as a promising cancer treatment. A modest increase in salt (sodium chloride) concentration in immune cell cultures is known to induce inflammatory phenotypic differentiation. In our current study, we analyzed the ability of salt treatment to induce ex vivo expansion of tumor-primed CD4 (cluster of differentiation 4)+T cells to an effector phenotype. CD4+T cells were isolated using immunomagnetic beads from draining lymph nodes and spleens from tumor bearing C57Bl/6 mice, 28 days post-injection of Py230 syngeneic breast cancer cells. CD4+T cells from non-tumor bearing mice were isolated from splenocytes of 12-week-old C57Bl/6 mice. These CD4+T cells were expanded ex vivo with five stimulation cycles, and each cycle comprised of treatment with high salt (Δ0.035 M NaCl) or equimolar mannitol controls along with anti-CD3/CD28 monoclonal antibodies for the first 3 days, followed by the addition of interleukin (IL)-2/IL-7 cytokines and heat killed Py230 for 4 days. Ex vivo high salt treatment induced a two-fold higher Th1 (T helper type 1) expansion and four-fold higher Th17 expansion compared to equimolar mannitol treatment. Importantly, the high salt expanded CD4+T cells retained tumor-specificity, as demonstrated by higher in vitro cytotoxicity against Py230 breast cancer cells and reduced in vivo syngeneic tumor growth. Metabolic studies revealed that high salt treatment enhanced the glycolytic reserve and basal mitochondrial oxidation of CD4+T cells, suggesting a role of high salt in enhanced pro-growth anabolic metabolism needed for inflammatory differentiation. Mechanistic studies demonstrated that the high salt induced switch to the effector phenotype was mediated by tonicity-dependent transcription factor, TonEBP/NFAT5. Using a transgenic murine model, we demonstrated that CD4 specific TonEBP/NFAT5 knock out (CD4cre/creNFAT5flox/flox) abrogated the induction of the effector phenotype and anti-tumor efficiency of CD4+T cells following high salt treatment. Taken together, our data suggest that high salt-mediated ex vivo expansion of tumor-primed CD4+T cells could induce effective tumor specific anti-cancer responses, which may have a novel cell-based cancer immunotherapeutic application.
Keywords: T-helper cells; breast cancer; cancer biology; cytokines; immunotherapy.