Immunosuppressive TGF-β1 and the genes associated with TGF-β1 activation were highly expressed in many tumors. Cells expressing high levels of TGF-β1 co-localized with immune cells in tumors, and IFNγ expression was low in these areas. In vitro, the addition of TGF-β1 activated immunosuppressive pathways that inhibited both proliferative and cytotoxic responses of T cells engineered to express tumor-specific TCRs. T cells co-expressing a dominant-negative form of the TGFβRII subunit of the TGFβ receptor ablated TGF-β1 signaling and retained proliferative, cytokine production, and cytotoxic responses, even in the presence of TGF-β1.
Contributed by Margot O’Toole
ABSTRACT: Adoptive T cell therapy with T cells expressing affinity-enhanced TCRs has shown promising results in phase 1/2 clinical trials for solid and hematological tumors. However, depth and durability of responses to adoptive T cell therapy can suffer from an inhibitory tumor microenvironment. A common immune-suppressive agent is TGF-β, which is secreted by tumor cells and cells recruited to the tumor. We investigated whether human T cells could be engineered to be resistant to inhibition by TGF-β. Truncating the intracellular signaling domain from TGF-β receptor (TGFβR) II produces a dominant-negative receptor (dnTGFβRII) that dimerizes with endogenous TGFβRI to form a receptor that can bind TGF-β but cannot signal. We previously generated specific peptide enhanced affinity receptor TCRs recognizing the HLA-A*02-restricted peptides New York esophageal squamous cell carcinoma 1 (NY-ESO-1)157-165/l-Ag family member-1A (TCR: GSK3377794, formerly NY-ESO-1c259) and melanoma Ag gene A10254-262 (TCR: ADP-A2M10, formerly melanoma Ag gene A10c796). In this article, we show that exogenous TGF-β inhibited in vitro proliferation and effector functions of human T cells expressing these first-generation high-affinity TCRs, whereas inhibition was reduced or abolished in the case of second-generation TCRs coexpressed with dnTGFβRII (e.g., GSK3845097). TGF-β isoforms and a panel of TGF-β-associated genes are overexpressed in a range of cancer indications in which NY-ESO-1 is commonly expressed, particularly in synovial sarcoma. As an example, immunohistochemistry/RNAscope identified TGF-β-positive cells close to T cells in tumor nests and stroma, which had low frequencies of cells expressing IFN-γ in a non-small cell lung cancer setting. Coexpression of dnTGFβRII may therefore improve the efficacy of TCR-transduced T cells.