Epitope spreading driven by the joint action of CART cells and pharmacological STING stimulation counteracts tumor escape via antigen-loss variants
Enrique Conde 1 2 , Enric Vercher 1 2 , Marta Soria-Castellano 1 2 , Jesús Suarez-Olmos 1 2 , Uxua Mancheño 1 2 , Edurne Elizalde 1 2 , M Luis Rodriguez 1 2 , Javier Glez-Vaz 1 2 , Noelia Casares 1 2 , Estefanía Rodríguez-García 2 3 , Mirja Hommel 2 3 , Gloria González-Aseguinolaza 2 3 , Iratxe Uranga-Murillo 4 5 , Julian Pardo 4 5 6 , Gorka Alkorta 2 7 , Ignacio Melero 1 2 8 9 , Juan Lasarte 1 2 , Sandra Hervas-Stubbs 10 2 11
Background: Target antigen (Ag) loss has emerged as a major cause of relapse after chimeric antigen receptor T (CART)-cell therapy. We reasoned that the combination of CART cells, with the consequent tumor debulking and release of Ags, together with an immunomodulatory agent, such as the stimulator of interferon gene ligand (STING-L) 2'3'-cyclic GMP-AMP (2'3'-cGAMP), may facilitate the activation of an endogenous response to secondary tumor Ags able to counteract this tumor escape mechanism.
Methods: Mice bearing B16-derived tumors expressing prostate-specific membrane Ag or gp75 were treated systemically with cognate CART cells followed by intratumoral injections of 2'3'-cGAMP.
We studied the target Ag inmunoediting by CART cells and the effect of the CART/STING-L combination on the control of STING-L-treated and STING-L-non-treated tumors and on the endogenous antitumor T-cell response. The role of Batf3-dependent dendritic cells (DCs), stimulator of interferon gene (STING) signaling and perforin (Perf)-mediated killing in the efficacy of the combination were analyzed.
Results: Using an immune-competent solid tumor model, we showed that CART cells led to the emergence of tumor cells that lose the target Ag, recreating the cancer immunoediting effect of CART-cell therapy. In this setting, the CART/STING-L combination, but not the monotherapy with CART cells or STING-L, restrained tumor progression and enhanced overall survival, showing abscopal effects on distal STING-L-non-treated tumors.
Interestingly, a secondary immune response against non-chimeric antigen receptor-targeted Ags (epitope spreading), as determined by major histocompatibility complex-I-tetramer staining, was fostered and its intensity correlated with the efficacy of the combination. This was consistent with the oligoclonal expansion of host T cells, as revealed by in-depth T-cell receptor repertoire analysis.
Moreover, only in the combination group did the activation of endogenous T cells translate into a systemic antitumor response. Importantly, the epitope spreading and the antitumor effects of the combination were fully dependent on host STING signaling and Batf3-dependent DCs, and were partially dependent on Perf release by CART cells. Interestingly, the efficacy of the CART/STING-L treatment also depended on STING signaling in CART cells.
Conclusions: Our data show that 2'3'-cGAMP is a suitable adjuvant to combine with CART-cell therapy, allowing the induction of an endogenous T-cell response that prevents the outgrowth of Ag-loss tumor variants.