Selectively targeting myeloid-derived suppressor cells through TRAIL receptor 2 to enhance the efficacy of CAR T cell therapy for treatment of breast cancer

J Immunother Cancer. 2021 Nov;9(11):e003237. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2021-003237.


Background: Successful targeting of solid tumors such as breast cancer (BC) using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells has proven challenging, largely attributed to the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment (TME). Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) inhibit CAR T cell function and persistence within the breast TME. To overcome this challenge, we have developed CAR T cells targeting tumor-associated mucin 1 (MUC1) with a novel chimeric costimulatory receptor that targets tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand receptor 2 (TR2) expressed on MDSCs.

Methods: The function of the TR2.41BB costimulatory receptor was assessed by exposing non-transduced (NT) and TR2.41BB transduced T cells to recombinant TR2, after which nuclear translocation of NFκB was measured by ELISA and western blot. The cytolytic activity of CAR.MUC1/TR2.41BB T cells was measured in a 5-hour cytotoxicity assay using MUC1+ tumor cells as targets in the presence or absence of MDSCs. In vivo antitumor activity was assessed using MDSC-enriched tumor-bearing mice treated with CAR T cells with or without TR2.41BB.

Results: Nuclear translocation of NFκB in response to recombinant TR2 was detected only in TR2.41BB T cells. The presence of MDSCs diminished the cytotoxic potential of CAR.MUC1 T cells against MUC1+ BC cell lines by 25%. However, TR2.41BB expression on CAR.MUC1 T cells induced MDSC apoptosis, thereby restoring the cytotoxic activity of CAR.MUC1 T cells against MUC1+ BC lines. The presence of MDSCs resulted in an approximately twofold increase in tumor growth due to enhanced angiogenesis and fibroblast accumulation compared with mice with tumor alone. Treatment of these MDSC-enriched tumors with CAR.MUC1.TR2.41BB T cells led to superior tumor cell killing and significant reduction in tumor growth (24.54±8.55 mm3) compared with CAR.MUC1 (469.79±81.46 mm3) or TR2.41BB (434.86±64.25 mm3) T cells alone. CAR.MUC1.TR2.41BB T cells also demonstrated improved T cell proliferation and persistence at the tumor site, thereby preventing metastases. We observed similar results using CAR.HER2.TR2.41BB T cells in a HER2+ BC model.

Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate that CAR T cells that coexpress the TR2.4-1BB receptor exhibit superior antitumor potential against breast tumors containing immunosuppressive and tumor promoting MDSCs, resulting in TME remodeling and improved T cell proliferation at the tumor site.

Keywords: chimeric antigen; cytotoxicity; immunologic; immunotherapy; myeloid-derived suppressor cells; receptors; tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen / metabolism*
  • Receptors, TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / metabolism*


  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen
  • Receptors, TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand