Research ArticleImmunotherapy

Tracking genetically engineered lymphocytes long-term reveals the dynamics of T cell immunological memory

Science Translational Medicine  09 Dec 2015:
Vol. 7, Issue 317, pp. 317ra198
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aac8265

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Committing T cells to memory

Adoptive cell transfer is an increasingly successful therapy for a variety of diseases; however, little is known about what regulates the survival of these cells in humans. Now, Oliveira et al. leverage patients who have received genetically modified hematopoietic stem cells to track T cells over time. They found labeled effector memory, central memory, and stem memory T cells 2 to 14 years after infusion in all patients. Antigen recognition was critical in driving persistence and expansion. The clones that survived long-term appeared to initiate preferentially from central and stem cell memory T cell populations. These data suggest that the original phenotype of infused cells may influence long-term persistence of adoptively transferred cells.


Long-lasting immune protection from pathogens and cancer requires the generation of memory T cells able to survive long-term. To unravel the immunological requirements for long-term persistence of human memory T cells, we characterized and traced, over several years, T lymphocytes genetically modified to express the thymidine kinase (TK) suicide gene that were infused in 10 patients after haploidentical hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). At 2 to 14 years after infusion and in the presence of a broad and resting immune system, we could still detect effectors/effector memory (TEM/EFF), central memory (TCM), and stem memory (TSCM) TK+ cells, circulating at low but stable levels in all patients. Longitudinal analysis of cytomegalovirus (CMV)– and Flu-specific TK+ cells indicated that antigen recognition was dominant in driving in vivo expansion and persistence at detectable levels. The amount of infused TSCM cells positively correlated with early expansion and with the absolute counts of long-term persisting gene-marked cells. By combining T cell sorting with sequencing of integration (IS), TCRα and TCRβ clonal markers, we showed that T cells retrieved long-term were enriched in clones originally shared in different memory T cell subsets, whereas dominant long-term clonotypes appeared to preferentially originate from infused TSCM and TCM clones. Together, these results indicate that long-term persistence of gene-modified memory T cells after haploidentical HSCT is influenced by antigen exposure and by the original phenotype of infused cells. Cancer adoptive immunotherapy might thus benefit from cellular products enriched in lymphocytes with an early-differentiated phenotype.

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