Combined CD28 and 4-1BB costimulation potentiates affinity-tuned chimeric antigen receptor-engineered t cells

Esther Drent, Renée Poels, Ruud Ruiter, Niels W. C. J. van de Donk, Sonja Zweegman, Huipin Yuan, Joost de Bruijn, Michel Sadelain, Henk M. Lokhorst, Richard W. J. Groen, Tuna Mutis, Maria Themeli

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96 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Targeting nonspecific, tumor-associated antigens (TAA) with chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) requires specific attention to restrict possible detrimental on-target/off-tumor effects. A reduced affinity may direct CAR-engineered T (CART) cells to tumor cells expressing high TAA levels while sparing low expressing normal tissues. However, decreasing the affinity of the CAR-target binding may compromise the overall antitumor effects. Here, we demonstrate the prime importance of the type of intracellular signaling on the function of lowaffinity CAR-T cells. Experimental Design: We used a series of single-chain variable fragments (scFv) with five different affinities targeting the same epitope of the multiple myeloma-associated CD38 antigen. The scFvs were incorporated in three different CAR costimulation designs and we evaluated the antitumor functionality and off-tumor toxicity of the generated CAR-T cells in vitro and in vivo. Results: We show that the inferior cytotoxicity and cytokine secretion mediated by CD38 CARs of very low-affinity (K d < 1.9 × 10 -6 mol/L) bearing a 4-1BB intracellular domain can be significantly improved when a CD28 costimulatory domain is used. Additional 4-1BB signaling mediated by the coexpression of 4-1BBL provided the CD28-based CD38 CAR-T cells with superior proliferative capacity, preservation of a central memory phenotype, and significantly improved in vivo antitumor function, while preserving their ability to discriminate target antigen density. Conclusions: A combinatorial costimulatory design allows the use of very low-affinity binding domains (K d < 1 mmol/L) for the construction of safe but also optimally effective CAR-T cells. Thus, very-low-affinity scFvs empowered by selected costimulatory elements can enhance the clinical potential of TAA-targeting CARs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4014-4025
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

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