Integration of ζ-deficient CARs into the CD3-zeta gene conveys potent cytotoxicity in T and NK cells

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2023 Nov 14:2023.11.10.565518. doi: 10.1101/2023.11.10.565518.


Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-reprogrammed immune cells hold significant therapeutic potential for oncology, autoimmune diseases, transplant medicine, and infections. All approved CAR-T therapies rely on personalized manufacturing using undirected viral gene transfer, which results in non-physiological regulation of CAR-signaling and limits their accessibility due to logistical challenges, high costs and biosafety requirements. Here, we propose a novel approach utilizing CRISPR-Cas gene editing to redirect T cells and natural killer (NK) cells with CARs. By transferring shorter, truncated CAR-transgenes lacking a main activation domain into the human CD3 ζ (CD247) gene, functional CAR fusion-genes are generated that exploit the endogenous CD3 ζ gene as the CAR's activation domain. Repurposing this T/NK-cell lineage gene facilitated physiological regulation of CAR-expression and reprogramming of various immune cell types, including conventional T cells, TCRγ/δ T cells, regulatory T cells, and NK cells. In T cells, CD3 ζ in-frame fusion eliminated TCR surface expression, reducing the risk of graft-versus-host disease in allogeneic off-the-shelf settings. CD3 ζ-CD19-CAR-T cells exhibited comparable leukemia control to T cell receptor alpha constant ( TRAC )-replaced and lentivirus-transduced CAR-T cells in vivo . Tuning of CD3 ζ-CAR-expression levels significantly improved the in vivo efficacy. Compared to TRAC -edited CAR-T cells, integration of a Her2-CAR into CD3 ζ conveyed similar in vitro tumor lysis but reduced susceptibility to activation-induced cell death and differentiation, presumably due to lower CAR-expression levels. Notably, CD3 ζ gene editing enabled reprogramming of NK cells without impairing their canonical functions. Thus, CD3 ζ gene editing is a promising platform for the development of allogeneic off-the-shelf cell therapies using redirected killer lymphocytes.

Key points: Integration of ζ-deficient CARs into CD3 ζ gene allows generation of functional TCR-ablated CAR-T cells for allogeneic off-the-shelf use CD3 ζ-editing platform allows CAR reprogramming of NK cells without affecting their canonical functions.

Publication types

  • Preprint