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J Transl Med. 2013 Feb 12;11:37. doi: 10.1186/1479-5876-11-37.

IL-21 promotes the expansion of CD27+ CD28+ tumor infiltrating lymphocytes with high cytotoxic potential and low collateral expansion of regulatory T cells.

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  • 1Department of Medical Oncology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



Adoptive cell transfer of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes has shown clinical efficacy in the treatment of melanoma and is now also being explored in other tumor types. Generation of sufficient numbers of effector T cells requires extensive ex vivo expansion, often at the cost of T cell differentiation and potency. For the past 20 years, IL-2 has been the key cytokine applied in the expansion of TIL for ACT. However, the use of IL-2 has also led to collateral expansion of regulatory T cells (Tregs) and progressive T cell differentiation, factors known to limit in vivo persistence and activity of transferred TIL. The use of alternative T cell growth factors is therefore warranted. Here, we have compared the effects of IL-2, -15 and -21 cytokines on the expansion and activation of TIL from single-cell suspensions of non-small cell lung cancer, ovarian cancer and melanoma.


We applied the K562-based artificial APC (aAPC) platform for the direct and rapid expansion of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes isolated from primary cancer specimens. These aAPC were engineered to express the Fc-γ receptor CD32 (for anti-CD3 antibody binding), the co-stimulatory molecule 4-1BBL, and to secrete either IL-2, IL-15 or IL-21 cytokine.


Although IL-2 aAPC induced the greatest overall TIL expansion, IL-21 aAPC induced superior expansion of CD8+ T cells with a CD27+ CD28+ "young" phenotype and superior functional cytotoxic effector characteristics, without collateral expansion of Tregs.


Our data rationalize the clinical application of IL-21-secreting aAPC as a standardized cell-based platform in the expansion of "young" effector TIL for ACT.

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