T-cell anergy is a tolerance mechanism defined as a hyporesponsive status of antigen-specific T cells upon prior antigen encounter and is believed to play a critical role in the evasion of tumor immunity and the amelioration of allogeneic transplant rejection. Molecular mechanisms in controlling T-cell anergy are less known. We show here that administration of an agonistic monoclonal antibody (mAb) to CD137, a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor superfamily, prevents the induction of CD8+ cytolytic T-lymphocyte (CTL) anergy by soluble antigens. More importantly, CD137 mAb restores the functions of established anergic CTLs upon reencountering their cognate antigen. As a result, infusion of CD137 mAb inhibits progressive tumor growth that is caused by soluble tumor antigen-induced tolerance in a P815R model. CD137 mAb also restores proliferation and effector functions of anergic alloreactive 2C T cells in a bone marrow transplantation model. Our results indicate that ligation of CD137 receptor delivers a regulatory signal for T-cell anergy and implicate manipulation of the CD137 pathway as a new approach to break T-cell tolerance.
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