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PLoS One. 2010 Jun 8;5(6):e11003. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011003.

Evaluating the cellular targets of anti-4-1BB agonist antibody during immunotherapy of a pre-established tumor in mice.

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Department of Immunology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Manipulation of the immune system represents a promising avenue for cancer therapy. Rational advances in immunotherapy of cancer will require an understanding of the precise correlates of protection. Agonistic antibodies against the tumor necrosis factor receptor family member 4-1BB are emerging as a promising tool in cancer therapy, with evidence that these antibodies expand both T cells as well as innate immune cells. Depletion studies have suggested that several cell types can play a role in these immunotherapeutic regimens, but do not reveal which cells must directly receive the 4-1BB signals for effective therapy.


We show that re-activated memory T cells are superior to resting memory T cells in control of an 8-day pre-established E.G7 tumor in mice. We find that ex vivo activation of the memory T cells allows the activated effectors to continue to divide and enter the tumor, regardless of antigen-specificity; however, only antigen-specific reactivated memory T cells show any efficacy in tumor control. When agonistic anti-4-1BB antibody is combined with this optimized adoptive T cell therapy, 80% of mice survive and are fully protected from tumor rechallenge. Using 4-1BB-deficient mice and mixed bone marrow chimeras, we find that it is sufficient to have 4-1BB only on the endogenous host alphabeta T cells or only on the transferred T cells for the effects of anti-4-1BB to be realized. Conversely, although multiple immune cell types express 4-1BB and both T cells and APC expand during anti-4-1BB therapy, 4-1BB on cells other than alphabeta T cells is neither necessary nor sufficient for the effect of anti-4-1BB in this adoptive immunotherapy model.


This study establishes alphabeta T cells rather than innate immune cells as the critical target in anti-4-1BB therapy of a pre-established tumor. The study also demonstrates that ex vivo activation of memory T cells prior to infusion allows antigen-specific tumor control without the need for reactivation of the memory T cells in the tumor.

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