Engineered Removal of PD-1 From the Surface of CD19 CAR-T Cells Results in Increased Activation and Diminished Survival
CAR-T cell therapy is the most advanced way to treat therapy resistant hematologic cancers, in particular B cell lymphomas and leukemias. T cells equipped ex vivo with chimeric receptor recognize target tumor cells and kill them. CAR-T cells that recognize CD19 marker of B cells (CD19 CAR-T) are considered the gold standard of CAR-T therapy and are approved by FDA. But in some cases, CD19 CAR-T cell therapy fails due to immune suppressive microenvironment.
It is shown that tumor cells upregulate expression of PD-L1 surface molecule that binds and increases level and signal provided by PD-1 receptor on the surface of therapeutic CAR-T cells. Induction of this negative signaling results in functional impairment of cytotoxic program in CAR-T cells. Multiple attempts were made to block PD-1 signaling by reducing binding or surface level of PD-1 in CAR-T cells by various means. In this study authors co-expressчed CD19-CAR with PD-1-specific VHH domain of anti-PD-1 nanobody to block PD-1/PD-L1 signaling in CD19 CAR-T cells. Unexpectedly, despite increased activation of CAR-T cells with low level of PD-1, these T cells had reduced survival and diminished cytotoxicity. Functional impairment caused by disrupted PD-1 signaling was accompanied by faster maturation and upregulation of exhaustion marker TIGIT in CAR-T cells. Authors conclude that PD-1 in addition to its direct negative effect on CAR-induced signaling is required for attenuation of strong stimulation leading to cell death and functional exhaustion. These observations suggest that PD-1 downregulation should not be considered as the way to improve the quality of therapeutic CAR-T cells.
This work was supported by the Ministry Education and Science of the Russian Federation (Grant No. 075-15-2020-773) and published in Frontiers in molecular biosciences.