Allogeneic stem cell transplantation (allo-SCT) can be a curative treatment for patients with a hematologic malignancy due to alloreactive T cell responses recognizing minor histocompatibility antigens (MiHA). Yet tumor immune escape mechanisms can cause failure of T cell immunity, leading to relapse. Tumor cells display low expression of costimulatory molecules and can up-regulate coinhibitory molecules that inhibit T cell functionality on ligation with their counter-receptors on the tumor-reactive T cells. The aim of this explorative study was to evaluate immune checkpoint expression profiles on T cell subsets and on cytomegalovirus (CMV)- and/or MiHA-reactive CD8+ T cells of allo-SCT recipients using a 13-color flow cytometry panel, and to correlate these expression patterns to clinical outcomes. MiHA-reactive CD8+ T cells exhibited an early differentiated CD27++/CD28++ phenotype with low KLRG-1 and CD57 expression. These T cells also displayed increased expression of PD-1, TIM-3, and TIGIT compared with total effector memory T cells and CMV-specific CD8+ T cells in healthy donors and allo-SCT recipients. Remarkably, high coexpression of PD-1, TIGIT, and KLRG-1 on MiHA-reactive CD8+ T cells was associated with relapse after allo-SCT. Taken together, these findings indicate that MiHA-specific CD8+ T cells of relapsed patients have a distinctive coinhibitory expression signature compared with patients who stay in remission. This phenotype may serve as a potential monitoring tool in patients. Moreover, these findings suggest that PD-1 and TIGIT play important roles in regulating T cell-mediated tumor control, providing a rationale for immunotherapy with blocking antibodies to treat relapse after allo-SCT.
- TIGIT and T cells
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