The outcome of patients affected by high-risk or metastatic neuroblastoma (NB) remains grim, with ≥ 50% of the children experiencing relapse or progression of the disease despite multimodal, intensive treatment. In order to identify new strategies to improve the overall survival and the quality of life of these children, we recently developed and optimized a third-generation GD2-specific chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) construct, which is currently under evaluation in our Institution in a phase I/II clinical trial (NCT03373097) enrolling patients with relapsed/refractory NB. We observed that our CAR T-cells are able to induce marked tumor reduction and even achieve complete remission with a higher efficiency than that of other CAR T-cells reported in previous studies. However, often responses are not sustained and relapses occur. Here, we demonstrate for the first time a mechanism of resistance to GD2.CAR T-cell treatment, showing how polymorphonuclear myeloid-derived suppressor cells (PMN-MDSC) increase in the peripheral blood (PB) of NB patients after GD2.CAR T-cell treatment in case of relapse and loss of response. In vitro, isolated PMN-MDSC demonstrate to inhibit the anti-tumor cytotoxicity of different generations of GD2.CAR T-cells. Gene-expression profiling of GD2.CAR T-cells "conditioned" with PMN-MDSC shows downregulation of genes involved in cell activation, signal transduction, inflammation and cytokine/chemokine secretion. Analysis of NB gene-expression dataset confirms a correlation between expression of these genes and patient outcome. Moreover, in patients treated with GD2.CAR T-cells, the frequency of circulating PMN-MDSC inversely correlates with the levels of GD2.CAR T-cells, resulting more elevated in patients who did not respond or lost response to the treatment. The presence and the frequency of PMN-MDSC in PB of high-risk and metastatic NB represents a useful prognostic marker to predict the response to GD2.CAR T-cells and other adoptive immunotherapy. This study underlines the importance of further optimization of both CAR T-cells and clinical trial in order to target elements of the tumor microenvironment.
Keywords: Clinical response; GD2.CAR T-cells; Long-term response; Neuroblastoma; Polymorphonuclear myeloid-derived suppressor cells; T-cell functionality.
© 2021. The Author(s).