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136 Targeting MET with chimeric antigen receptor T cells in hepatocellular carcinoma
  1. Yuan Qin1,
  2. Anna Qin1,
  3. Anna Musket1,
  4. Joseph Lee1,
  5. Zhi Yao1,
  6. Giedre Krenciute2 and
  7. Qian Xie1
  1. 1East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN, USA
  2. 2St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, TN, USA


Background Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the leading cause of cancer mortality worldwide. While HBV/HCV infection is the primary cause of HCC, overexpression of MET, the receptor of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), occurs in 50% HCC patients, and is an indicator of poor prognosis. Although the multi-target MET tyrosine kinase inhibitor cabozantinib is FDA approved for treating advanced HCC, the long-term efficacy versus toxicity remains unknown. Our study is to develop specific MET-targeting chimeric antigen receptor T (CAR-T) cells for treating HCC with MET overexpression.

Methods Based on a well-established anti-MET monoclonal antibody, we synthesized and cloned the single-chain variable fragment (ScFv) sequence into two retroviral based 2nd generation CAR vectors (MET-CAR.CD28.ζ. and MET-CAR.4-1BB.ζ.). A MET-CAR without CD3ζ domain (MET-CARΔ) served as a negative control. To produce MET-CAR-T cells, healthy PBMCs were stimulated with anti-CD3/CD28 antibodies in the presence of IL-7/IL-15 followed by transduction with MET-CAR viral particles. T cell transduction efficacy was determined using flow cytometry. HCC cell lines with variable MET expression from high/positive (MHCC97H, C3A, and JHH5) to MET low/negative (SNU398) were used to determine MET-specific CAR T cells specificity and effector function using MTS assay. We also collected media from the tumor-T cell co-cultures and determined IL-2 and IFNγ secretion using ELISA. Finally, real-time confocal imaging (24 h) was performed to record the progress of MET-CAR T cell mediated killing activity against MHCC97H/mCherry cells.

Results We show that both MET-CAR.CD28.ζ and MET-CAR.4-1BB.ζ -T cells significantly killed MHCC97H, C3A, and JHH5 cells in antigen dependent manner. MET-CAR T cell killing is MET dependent as we observed no killing of MET-negative SNU398 cells. In addition, MET-CAR.4-1BB.ζ and MET-CAR.CD28.ζ- T cells secreted IL-2 and IFNγ when co-cultured with MHCC97H, C3A, JHH5 cells, but not SNU398. Confocal imaging studies showed that both MET-specific CAR T cells migrated toward MHCC97H/mCherry cells, formed aggregations, and induced tumor cell death, while MET-CARΔ T cells failed to do so.

Conclusions Here we demonstrate that MET-CAR.4-1BB.ζ and MET-CAR.CD28.ζ- T cells specifically recognize and kill MET-positive HCC cells in vitro. While animal studies are required to validate the efficacy in vivo, our study has produced a novel therapeutic CAR T cell target for treating malignant HCC and other type of cancers with MET overexpression.

Acknowledgements This independent research was supported by the Gilead Sciences Research Scholars Program in Liver Disease- The Americas, and Department of Defense (DoD) Ideal Award (to QX)

Ethics Approval The study was approved by East Tennessee State University’s Ethics Board, approval number #0619.3s.

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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