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Blood. 2014 Feb 27;123(9):1412-21. doi: 10.1182/blood-2013-08-523001. Epub 2013 Dec 19.

Reversal of in situ T-cell exhaustion during effective human antileukemia responses to donor lymphocyte infusion.

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Department of Medical Oncology and.


Increasing evidence across malignancies suggests that infiltrating T cells at the site of disease are crucial to tumor control. We hypothesized that marrow-infiltrating immune populations play a critical role in response to donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI), an established and potentially curative immune therapy whose precise mechanism remains unknown. We therefore analyzed marrow-infiltrating immune populations in 29 patients (22 responders, 7 nonresponders) with relapsed chronic myelogenous leukemia who received CD4(+) DLI in the pre-tyrosine kinase inhibitor era. Immunohistochemical analysis of pretreatment marrow revealed that the presence of >4% marrow-infiltrating CD8(+) (but not CD4(+)) T cells predicted DLI response, even in the setting of high leukemia burden. Furthermore, mRNA expression profiling of marrow-infiltrating T cells of a subset of responders compared with nonresponders revealed enrichment of T-cell exhaustion-specific genes in pretreatment T cells of DLI responders and significant downregulation of gene components in the same pathway in responders in conjunction with clinical response. Our data demonstrate that response to DLI is associated with quantity of preexisting marrow CD8(+) T cells and local reversal of T-cell exhaustion. Our studies implicate T-cell exhaustion as a therapeutic target of DLI and support the potential use of novel anti-PD1/PDL1 agents in lieu of DLI.

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