CD8+ T cell activation in cancer comprises an initial activation phase in lymph nodes followed by effector differentiation within the tumor

Immunity. 2023 Jan 10;56(1):107-124.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2022.12.002. Epub 2022 Dec 28.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms* / pathology