A major barrier to vaccines in cancer treatment is their failure to activate and maintain a complete cancer-specific CD8+ effector T-cell repertoire. Low-avidity T cells are more likely to escape clonal deletion in the thymus when compared with high-avidity T cells, and therefore comprise the major population of effector T cells available for activation in patients with cancer. However, low-avidity T cells fail to traffic into the tumor microenvironment and function in eradicating tumor under optimal vaccination conditions as opposed to high-avidity T cells that escape clonal deletion and function in tumor killing. We used high- and low-avidity T-cell receptor transgenic CD8+ T cells specific for the immunodominant epitope HER2/neu (RNEU420–429) to identify signaling pathways responsible for the inferior activity of the low-avidity T cells. Adoptive transfer of these cells into tumor-bearing vaccinated mice identified the members of apoptosis pathways that are upregulated in low-avidity T cells. The increased expression of proapoptotic proteins by low-avidity T cells promoted their own cell death and also that of other tumor-specific CD8+ T cells within their local environment. Importantly, we show that this proapoptotic effect can be overcome by using a strong costimulatory signal that prevents the activation-induced cell death and enables the low-avidity T cells to traffic into the tumor and assist in tumor clearance. These findings identify new therapeutic opportunities for activating the most potent anticancer T-cell responses. Cancer Immunol Res; 2(4); 1–13. ©2014 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Clinical Immunology Research Online (http://cancerimmunolres.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received September 6, 2013.
- Revision received December 11, 2013.
- Accepted January 3, 2014.
- ©2014 American Association for Cancer Research.