Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy has limited efficacy against solid tumors, and one major challenge is T cell exhaustion. To address this challenge, we performed a candidate gene screen using a hypofunction CAR-T cell model and found that depletion of basic leucine zipper ATF-like transcription factor (BATF) improved the antitumor performance of CAR-T cells. In different types of CAR-T cells and mouse OT-1 cells, loss of BATF endows T cells with improved resistance to exhaustion and superior tumor eradication efficacy. Mechanistically, we found that BATF binds to and up-regulates a subset of exhaustion-related genes in human CAR-T cells. BATF regulates the expression of genes involved in development of effector and memory T cells, and knocking out BATF shifts the population toward a more central memory subset. We demonstrate that BATF is a key factor limiting CAR-T cell function and that its depletion enhances the antitumor activity of CAR-T cells against solid tumors.
Keywords: BATF; CAR-T cell hypofunction model; T cell exhaustion; gene editing; immunotherapy.
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