Antigen-specific CD8+ T cell accumulation in tumors is a prerequisite for effective immunotherapy, and yet the mechanisms of lymphocyte transit are not well defined. Here we show that tumor-associated lymphatic vessels control T cell exit from tumors via the chemokine CXCL12, and intratumoral antigen encounter tunes CXCR4 expression by effector CD8+ T cells. Only high-affinity antigen downregulates CXCR4 and upregulates the CXCL12 decoy receptor, ACKR3, thereby reducing CXCL12 sensitivity and promoting T cell retention. A diverse repertoire of functional tumor-specific CD8+ T cells, therefore, exit the tumor, which limits the pool of CD8+ T cells available to exert tumor control. CXCR4 inhibition or loss of lymphatic-specific CXCL12 boosts T cell retention and enhances tumor control. These data indicate that strategies to limit T cell egress might be an approach to boost the quantity and quality of intratumoral T cells and thereby response to immunotherapy.
© 2023. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature America, Inc.