Trafficking of high avidity HER-2/neu-specific T cells into HER-2/neu-expressing tumors after depletion of effector/memory-like regulatory T cells

Vivian L. Weiss, Timothy H. Lee, Hong Song, Theodore S. Kouo, Chelsea M. Black, George Sgouros, Elizabeth M. Jaffee, Todd D. Armstrong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Background: Cancer vaccines are designed to activate and enhance cancer-antigen-targeted T cells that are suppressed through multiple mechanisms of immune tolerance in cancer-bearing hosts. T regulatory cell (Treg) suppression of tumor-specific T cells is one barrier to effective immunization. A second mechanism is the deletion of high avidity tumor-specific T cells, which leaves a less effective low avidity tumor specific T cell repertoire available for activation by vaccines. Treg depleting agents including low dose cyclophosphamide (Cy) and antibodies that deplete CD25-expressing Tregs have been used with limited success to enhance the potency of tumor-specific vaccines. In addition, few studies have evaluated mechanisms that activate low avidity cancer antigen-specific T cells. Therefore, we developed high and low avidity HER-2/neu-specific TCR transgenic mouse colonies specific for the same HER-2/neu epitope to define the tolerance mechanisms that specifically affect high versus low avidity tumor-specific T cells. Methodology/Principal Findings: High and low avidity CD8 + T cell receptor (TCR) transgenic mice specific for the breast cancer antigen HER-2/neu (neu) were developed to provide a purified source of naïve, tumor-specific T cells that can be used to study tolerance mechanisms. Adoptive transfer studies into tolerant FVB/N-derived HER-2/neu transgenic (neu-N) mice demonstrated that high avidity, but not low avidity, neu-specific T cells are inhibited by Tregs as the dominant tolerizing mechanism. High avidity T cells persisted, produced IFNγ, trafficked into tumors, and lysed tumors after adoptive transfer into mice treated with a neu-specific vaccine and low dose Cy to deplete Tregs. Analysis of Treg subsets revealed a Cy-sensitive CD4 +Foxp3 +CD25 low tumor-seeking migratory phenotype, characteristic of effector/memory Tregs, and capable of high avidity T cell suppression. Conclusion/Significance: Depletion of CD25 low Tregs allows activation of tumor-clearing high avidity T cells. Thus, the development of agents that specifically deplete Treg subsets should translate into more effective immunotherapies while avoiding autoimmunity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere31962
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 16 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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