CD137 (4-1BB; TNFSR9) is an activation-induced surface receptor that through costimulation effects provide antigen-primed T cells with augmented survival, proliferation and effector functions as well as metabolic advantages. These immunobiological mechanisms are being utilised for cancer immunotherapy with agonist CD137-binding and crosslinking-inducing agents that elicit CD137 intracellular signaling. In this study, side-by-side comparisons show that provision of CD137 costimulation in-cis with regard to the TCR-CD3-ligating cell is superior to that provided in-trans in terms of T cell activation, proliferation, survival, cytokine secretion and mitochondrial fitness in mouse and human. Cis ligation of CD137 relative to the TCR-CD3 complex results in more intense canonical and non-canonical NF-κB signaling and provides a more robust induction of cell cycle and DNA damage repair gene expression programs. Here we report that the superiority of cis versus trans CD137-costimulation is readily observed in vivo and is relevant for understanding the immunotherapeutic effects of CAR T cells and CD137 agonistic therapies currently undergoing clinical trials, which may provide costimulation either in cis or in trans.
© 2021. The Author(s).