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Enhanced-affinity murine T-cell receptors for tumor/self-antigens can be safe in gene therapy despite surpassing the threshold for thymic selection.

ABSTRACT

Many of the most promising tumor antigens for T-cell-based cancer immunotherapies are unmodified self-antigens. Unfortunately, the avidity of T cells specific for these antigens is limited by central tolerance during T-cell development in the thymus, resulting in decreased anti-tumor efficacy of these T cells. One approach to overcoming this obstacle is to mutate T-cell receptor (TCR) genes from naturally occurring T cells to enhance the affinity for the target antigen. These enhanced-affinity TCRs can then be developed for use in TCR gene therapy. Although TCRs with significantly enhanced affinity have been generated using this approach, it is not clear whether these TCRs, which bypass the affinity limits imposed by negative selection, remain unresponsive to the low levels of self-antigen generally expressed by some normal tissues. Here we show that 2 variants of a high-affinity WT1-specific TCR with enhanced affinity for WT1 are safe and do not mediate autoimmune tissue infiltration or damage when transduced into peripheral CD8 T cells and transferred in vivo. However, if expressed in developing T cells and subjected to thymic selection, the same enhanced-affinity TCRs signal tolerance mechanisms in the thymus, resulting in T cells with attenuated antigen sensitivity in the periphery.