Engineering T cells to suppress acute GVHD and leukemia relapse after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation

Blood. 2023 Mar 9;141(10):1194-1208. doi: 10.1182/blood.2022016052.


Acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD) limits the therapeutic benefit of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HSCT) and requires immunosuppressive prophylaxis that compromises antitumor and antipathogen immunity. OX40 is a costimulatory receptor upregulated on circulating T cells in aGVHD and plays a central role in driving the expansion of alloreactive T cells. Here, we show that OX40 is also upregulated on T cells infiltrating GVHD target organs in a rhesus macaque model, supporting the hypothesis that targeted ablation of OX40+ T cells will mitigate GVHD pathogenesis. We thus created an OX40-specific cytotoxic receptor that, when expressed on human T cells, enables selective elimination of OX40+ T cells. Because OX40 is primarily upregulated on CD4+ T cells upon activation, engineered OX40-specific T cells mediated potent cytotoxicity against activated CD4+ T cells and suppressed alloreactive T-cell expansion in a mixed lymphocyte reaction model. OX40 targeting did not inhibit antiviral activity of memory T cells specific to Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, and adenoviral antigens. Systemic administration of OX40-targeting T cells fully protected mice from fatal xenogeneic GVHD mediated by human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Furthermore, combining OX40 targeting with a leukemia-specific chimeric antigen receptor in a single T cell product provides simultaneous protection against leukemia and aGVHD in a mouse xenograft model of residual disease posttransplant. These results underscore the central role of OX40+ T cells in mediating aGVHD pathogenesis and support the feasibility of a bifunctional engineered T-cell product derived from the stem cell donor to suppress both disease relapse and aGVHD following allo-HSCT.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chronic Disease
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections* / complications
  • Graft vs Host Disease* / etiology
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation* / adverse effects
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human
  • Humans
  • Leukemia* / complications
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / pathology
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Mice
  • Recurrence