Improvements in tumor immunotherapies depend on better understanding of the anti-tumor T cell response. By studying human tumor-draining lymph nodes (TDLNs), we found that activated CD8+ T cells in TDLNs shared functional, transcriptional, and epigenetic traits with TCF1+ stem-like cells in the tumor. The phenotype and TCR overlap suggested that these TDLN cells were precursors to tumor-resident stem-like CD8+ T cells. Murine tumor models revealed that tumor-specific CD8+ T cells were activated in TDLNs but lacked an effector phenotype. These stem-like cells migrated into the tumor, where additional co-stimulation from antigen-presenting cells drove effector differentiation. This model of CD8+ T cell activation in response to cancer is different from that of canonical CD8+ T cell activation to acute viruses, and it proposes two stages of tumor-specific CD8+ T cell activation: initial activation in TDLNs and subsequent effector program acquisition within the tumor after additional co-stimulation.
Keywords: CD8 T cells; T cell differentiation; T cell exhaustion; antigen-presenting cells; cancer; co-stimulation; tumor-draining lymph nodes; tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes.
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