Central memory phenotype drives success of checkpoint inhibition in combination with CAR T cells


  • K. Toews
  • L. Grunewald
  • S. Schwiebert
  • A. Klaus
  • A. Winkler
  • S. Ali
  • F. Zirngibl
  • K. Astrahantseff
  • D.L. Wagner
  • A.G. Henssen
  • H.E. Deubzer
  • J.H. Schulte
  • S. Ochsenreither
  • A. Eggert
  • A. Künkele


  • Molecular Carcinogenesis


  • Mol Carcinog 59 (7): 724-273


  • The immunosuppressive microenvironment in solid tumors is thought to form a barrier to the entry and efficacy of cell-based therapies such as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells. Combining CAR T cell therapy with checkpoint inhibitors has been demonstrated to oppose immune escape mechanisms in solid tumors and augment antitumor efficacy. We evaluated PD-1/PD-L1 signaling capacity and the impact of an inhibitor of this checkpoint axis in an in vitro system for cancer cell challenge, the coculture of L1CAM-specific CAR T cells with neuroblastoma cell lines. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting-based analyses and luciferase reporter assays were used to assess PD-1/PD-L1 expression on CAR T and tumor cells as well as CAR T cell ability to kill neuroblastoma cells. Coculturing neuroblastoma cell lines with L1CAM-CAR T cells upregulated PD-L1 expression on neuroblastoma cells, confirming adaptive immune resistance. Exposure to neuroblastoma cells also upregulated the expression of the PD-1/PD-L1 axis in CAR T cells. The checkpoint inhibitor, nivolumab, enhanced L1CAM-CAR T cell-directed killing. However, nivolumab-enhanced L1CAM-CAR T cell killing did not strictly correlate with PD-L1 expression on neuroblastoma cells. In fact, checkpoint inhibitor success relied on strong PD-1/PD-L1 axis expression in the CAR T cells, which in turn depended on costimulatory domains within the CAR construct, and more importantly, on the subset of T cells selected for CAR T cell generation. Thus, T cell subset selection for CAR T cell generation and CAR T cell prescreening for PD-1/PD-L1 expression could help determine when combination therapy with checkpoint inhibitors could improve treatment efficacy.