Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy has emerged as a promising treatment strategy, however, therapeutic success against solid tumors such as neuroblastoma remains modest. Recurrence of antigen-poor tumor variants often ultimately results in treatment failure. Using antigen-independent killing mechanisms such as the FAS receptor (FAS)-FAS ligand (FASL) axis through epigenetic manipulation may be a way to counteract the escape achieved by antigen downregulation. Analysis of public RNA-sequencing data from primary neuroblastomas revealed that a particular epigenetic modifier, the histone lysine demethylase 1A (KDM1A), correlated negatively with FAS expression. KDM1A is known to interact with TP53 to repress TP53-mediated transcriptional activation of genes, including FAS. We showed that pharmacologically blocking KDM1A activity in neuroblastoma cells with the small molecule inhibitor, SP-2509, increased FAS cell-surface expression in a strictly TP53-dependent manner. FAS upregulation sensitized neuroblastoma cells to FAS-FASL-dependent killing and augmented L1CAM-directed CAR T cell therapy against antigen-poor or even antigen-negative tumor cells in vitro. The improved therapeutic response was abrogated when the FAS-FASL interaction was abolished with an antagonistic FAS antibody. Our results show that KDM1A inhibition unleashes an antigen-independent killing mechanism via the FAS-FASL axis to make tumor cell variants that partially or totally suppress antigen expression susceptible to CAR T cell therapy.
Keywords: adoptive immunotherapy; antigen-independent tumor cytotoxicity; epigenetic regulation; neuroblastoma; pediatric cancer; solid tumors.