Targeting Merkel cell carcinoma by engineered T cells specific to T-antigens of Merkel cell polyomavirus.
April 18, 2018
Clinical Cancer Research
April 18, 2018
The causative agent of most cases of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) has been identified as the Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV). MCV encoded T-antigens (Tags) are essential not only for virus-mediated tumorigenesis but also for maintaining MCC cell lines in vitro. MCV Tags are thus an appealing target for viral oncoprotein-directed T cell therapy for MCC. With this study, we aimed to isolate and characterize Tag-specific T cell receptors (TCR) for potential use in gene therapy clinical trials.
T cell responses against MCV Tag epitopes were investigated by immunizing transgenic mice that express a diverse human TCR repertoire restricted to HLA-A2. Human lymphocytes genetically engineered to express Tag-specific TCRs were tested for specific reactivity against MCC cell lines. The therapeutic potential of Tag-specific TCR gene therapy was tested in a syngeneic cancer model.
We identified naturally processed epitopes of MCV Tags and isolated Tag-specific TCRs. T cells expressing these TCRs were activated by HLA-A2-positive cells loaded with cognate peptide or cells that stably expressed MCV Tags. We showed cytotoxic potential of T cells engineered to express these TCRs in vitro and demonstrated regression of established tumors in a mouse model upon TCR gene therapy.
Our findings demonstrate that MCC cells can be targeted by MCV Tag-specific TCRs. Although recent findings suggest that approximately half of MCC patients benefit from PD1 pathway blockade, additional patients may benefit if their endogenous T cell response can be augmented by infusion of transgenic MCV-specific T cells such as those described here.