Effects of Chemotherapy Agents on Circulating Leukocyte Populations: Potential Implications for the Success of CAR-T Cell Therapies

Cancers (Basel). 2021 May 6;13(9):2225. doi: 10.3390/cancers13092225.


Adoptive T-cell therapy using autologous T cells genetically modified to express cancer-specific chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) has emerged as a novel approach for cancer treatment. CAR-T cell therapy has been approved in several major jurisdictions for treating refractory or relapsed cases of B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. However, in solid cancer patients, several clinical studies of CAR-T cell therapy have demonstrated minimal therapeutic effects, thus encouraging interest in better integrating CAR-T cells with other treatments such as conventional cytotoxic chemotherapy. Increasing evidence shows that not only do chemotherapy drugs have tumoricidal effects, but also significantly modulate the immune system. Here, we discuss immunomodulatory effects of chemotherapy drugs on circulating leukocyte populations, including their ability to enhance cytotoxic effects and preserve the frequency of CD8+ T cells and to deplete immunosuppressive populations including regulatory T cells and myeloid-derived suppressor cells. By modulating the abundance and phenotype of leukocytes in the blood (the 'raw material' for CAR-T cell manufacturing), we propose that prior chemotherapy could facilitate production of the most effective CAR-T cell products. Further research is required to directly test this concept and identify strategies for the optimal integration of CAR-T cell therapies with cytotoxic chemotherapy for solid cancers.

Keywords: CAR-T cell therapy; adoptive cell therapy; chemotherapy; combination therapy; cytotoxic CD8+ T cells; immunosuppression; immunotherapy; tumour microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Review