Background Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) therapy has had a transformative impact on the treatment of hematologic malignancies1–6 but success in solid tumors remains elusive. We hypothesized solid tumors have cell-intrinsic resistance mechanisms to CAR T-cell cytotoxicity.
Methods To systematically identify resistance pathways, we conducted a genome-wide CRISPR knockout screen in glioblastoma cells, a disease where CAR T-cells have had limited efficacy.7 8 We utilized the glioblastoma cell line U87 and targeted endogenously expressed EGFR with CAR T-cells generated from 6 normal donors for the screen. We validated findings in vitro and in vivo across a variety of human tumors and CAR T-cell antigens.
Results Loss of genes in the interferon gamma receptor (IFNγR) signaling pathway (IFNγR1, JAK1, JAK2) rendered U87 cells resistant to CAR T-cell killing in vitro. IFNγR1 knockout tumors also showed resistance to CAR T cell treatment in vivo in a second glioblastoma line U251 in an orthotopic model. This phenomenon was irrespective of CAR target as we also observed resistance with IL13Ralpha2 CAR T-cells. In addition, resistance to CAR T-cell cytotoxicity through loss of IFNγR1 applied more broadly to solid tumors as pancreatic cell lines targeted with either Mesothelin or EGFR CAR T-cells also showed resistance. However, loss of IFNγR signaling did not impact sensitivity of liquid tumor lines (leukemia, lymphoma or multiple myeloma) to CAR T-cells in vitro or in an orthotopic model of leukemia treated with CD19 CAR. We isolated the effects of decreased cytotoxicity of IFNγR1 knockout glioblastoma tumors to be cancer-cell intrinsic because CAR T-cells had no observable differences in proliferation, activation (CD69 and LFA-1), or degranulation (CD107a) when exposed to wildtype versus knockout tumors. Using transcriptional profiling, we determined that glioblastoma cells lacking IFNγR1 had lower upregulation of cell adhesion pathways compared to wildtype glioblastoma cells after exposure to CAR T-cells. We found that loss of IFNγR1 reduced CAR T-cell binding avidity to glioblastoma.
Conclusions The critical role of IFNγR signaling for susceptibility of solid tumors to CAR T-cells is surprising given that CAR T-cells do not require traditional antigen-presentation pathways. Instead, in glioblastoma tumors, IFNγR signaling was required for sufficient adhesion of CAR T-cells to mediate productive cytotoxicity. Our work demonstrates that liquid and solid tumors differ in their interactions with CAR T-cells and suggests that enhancing T-cell/tumor interactions may yield improved responses in solid tumors.
Acknowledgements RCL was supported by T32 GM007306, T32 AI007529, and the Richard N. Cross Fund. ML was supported by T32 2T32CA071345-21A1. SRB was supported by T32CA009216-38. NJH was supported by the Landry Cancer Biology Fellowship. JJ is supported by a NIH F31 fellowship (1F31-MH117886). GG was partially funded by the Paul C. Zamecnik Chair in Oncology at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and NIH R01CA 252940. MVM and this work is supported by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, Stand Up to Cancer, NIH R01CA 252940, R01CA238268, and R01CA249062.
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Ethics Approval All human samples were obtained with informed consent and following institutional guidelines under protocols approved by the Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) at the Massachusetts General Hospital (2016P001219). Animal work was performed according to protocols approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) (2015N000218 and 2020N000114).
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