Downregulation of surface epitopes causes postimmunotherapy relapses in B-lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL). Here we demonstrate that mRNA encoding CD22 undergoes aberrant splicing in B-ALL. We describe the plasma membrane-bound CD22 Δex5-6 splice isoform, which is resistant to chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells targeting the third immunoglobulin-like domain of CD22. We also describe splice variants skipping the AUG-containing exon 2 and failing to produce any identifiable protein, thereby defining an event that is rate limiting for epitope presentation. Indeed, forcing exon 2 skipping with morpholino oligonucleotides reduced CD22 protein expression and conferred resistance to the CD22-directed antibody-drug conjugate inotuzumab ozogamicin in vitro. Furthermore, among inotuzumab-treated pediatric patients with B-ALL, we identified one nonresponder in whose leukemic blasts Δex2 isoforms comprised the majority of CD22 transcripts. In a second patient, a sharp reduction in CD22 protein levels during relapse was driven entirely by increased CD22 exon 2 skipping. Thus, dysregulated CD22 splicing is a major mechanism of epitope downregulation and ensuing resistance to immunotherapy.
Significance: The mechanism(s) underlying downregulation of surface CD22 following CD22-directed immunotherapy remains underexplored. Our biochemical and correlative studies demonstrate that in B-ALL, CD22 expression levels are controlled by inclusion/skipping of CD22 exon 2. Thus, aberrant splicing of CD22 is an important driver/biomarker of de novo and acquired resistance to CD22-directed immunotherapies. See related commentary by Bourcier and Abdel-Wahab, p. 87. This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 85.
©2021 The Authors; Published by the American Association for Cancer Research.