The use of N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) during ex vivo expansion of TCR-engineered human T cells for adoptive cell transfer provides protection against activation-induced cell death, increases granzyme B production, and enhances antitumor efficacy in vitro. Although NAC did not drive cells to a central memory phenotype, it did reduce the expansion-induced upregulation of CD57 (senescence) and PD-1. Mechanistically, NAC likely maintains activity of the P13K/Akt pathway, causing degradation of Foxo1 and thus reduced expression of EOMES and PD-1.
Therapeutic outcomes for adoptive cell transfer (ACT) therapy are constrained by the quality of the infused T cells. The rapid expansion necessary to obtain large numbers of cells results in a more terminally differentiated phenotype with decreased durability and functionality. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) protects against activation-induced cell death (AICD) and improves anti-tumor efficacy of Pmel-1 T cells in vivo. Here, we show that these benefits of NAC can be extended to engineered T cells and significantly increases T-cell survival within the tumor microenvironment. The addition of NAC to the expansion protocol of human TIL13838I TCR-transduced T cells that are under evaluation in a Phase I clinical trial, demonstrated that findings in murine cells extend to human cells. Expansion of TIL13838I TCR-transduced T cells in NAC also increased their ability to kill target cells in vitro. Interestingly, NAC did not affect memory subsets, but diminished up-regulation of senescence (CD57) and exhaustion (PD-1) markers and significantly decreased expression of the transcription factors EOMES and Foxo1. Pharmacological inhibition of the PI3K/Akt pathway ablates the decrease in Foxo1 induced by NAC treatment of activated T cells. This suggests a model in which NAC through PI3K/Akt activation suppresses Foxo1 expression, thereby impacting its transcriptional targets EOMES, PD-1, and granzyme B. Taken together, our results indicate that NAC exerts pleiotropic effects that impact the quality of TCR-transduced T cells and suggest that the addition of NAC to current clinical protocols should be considered.