A reservoir of stem-like CD8+ T cells in the tumor-draining lymph node preserves the ongoing antitumor immune response

Sci Immunol. 2021 Oct;6(64):eabg7836. doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.abg7836. Epub 2021 Sep 2.


“Stem-like” TCF1+ CD8+ T (TSL) cells are necessary for long-term maintenance of T cell responses and the efficacy of immunotherapy, but, as tumors contain signals that should drive T cell terminal differentiation, how these cells are maintained in tumors remains unclear. In this study, we found that a small number of TCF1+ tumor-specific CD8+ T cells were present in lung tumors throughout their development. Yet, most intratumoral T cells differentiated as tumors progressed, corresponding with an immunologic shift in the tumor microenvironment (TME) from “hot” (T cell inflamed) to “cold” (non–T cell inflamed). By contrast, most tumor-specific CD8+ T cells in tumor-draining lymph nodes (dLNs) had functions and gene expression signatures similar to TSL from chronic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infection, and this population was stable over time despite the changes in the TME. dLN T cells were the developmental precursors of, and were clonally related to, their more differentiated intratumoral counterparts. Our data support the hypothesis that dLN T cells are the developmental precursors of the TCF1+ T cells in tumors that are maintained by continuous migration. Last, CD8+ T cells similar to TSL were also present in LNs from patients with lung adenocarcinoma, suggesting that a similar model may be relevant in human disease. Thus, we propose that the dLN TSL reservoir has a critical function in sustaining antitumor T cells during tumor development and in protecting them from the terminal differentiation that occurs in the TME.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Female
  • Immunotherapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / therapy
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology