Molecular mechanisms underlying the modulation of T-cell proliferation and cytotoxicity by immobilized CCL21 and ICAM1

June, 06, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


Adoptive cancer immunotherapy, using engineered T-cells, expressing chimeric antigen receptor or autologous tumor infiltrating lymphocytes became, in recent years, a major therapeutic approach for diverse types of cancer. However, despite the transformative potential of adoptive cancer immunotherapy, this field still faces major challenges, manifested by the apparent decline of the cytotoxic capacity of effector CD8+ T cells upon their expansion. To address these challenges, we have developed an ex vivo “synthetic immune niche” (SIN), composed of immobilized CCL21 and ICAM1, which synergistically induce an efficient expansion of antigen-specific CD8+ T cells while retaining, and even enhancing their cytotoxic potency.


To explore the molecular mechanisms through which a CCL21+ICAM1-based SIN modulates the interplay between the proliferation and cytotoxic potency of antigen-activated and CD3/CD28-activated effector CD8+ T cells, we performed integrated analysis of specific differentiation markers via flow cytometry, together with gene expression profiling.


On day 3, the transcriptomic effect induced by the SIN was largely similar for both dendritic cell (DC)/ovalbumin (OVA)-activated and anti-CD3/CD28-activated cells. Cell proliferation increased and the cells exhibited high killing capacity. On day 4 and on, the proliferation/cytotoxicity phenotypes became radically “activation-specific”; The DC/OVA-activated cells lost their cytotoxic activity, which, in turn, was rescued by the SIN treatment. On longer incubation, the cytotoxic activity further declined, and on day7, could not be rescued by the SIN. SIN stimulation following activation with anti-CD3/CD28 beads induced a major increase in the proliferative phenotype while transiently suppressing their cytotoxicity for 2–3 days and fully regaining their killing activity on day 7. Potential molecular regulatory pathways of the SIN effects were identified, based on transcriptomic and multispectral imaging profiling.


These data indicate that cell proliferation and cytotoxicity are negatively correlated, and the interplay between them is differentially regulated by the mode of initial activation. The SIN stimulation greatly enhances the cell expansion, following both activation modes, while displaying high survival and cytotoxic potency at specific time points following stimulation, suggesting that it could effectively reinforce adoptive cancer immunotherapy.

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