Co-transplantation of hematopoietic stem cells with those engineered to express leukemia-reactive T-cell receptors (TCRs) and differentiated ex vivo into precursor T cells (preTs) may reduce the risk of leukemia relapse. As expression of potentially self-(leukemia-) reactive TCRs will lead to negative selection or provoke autoimmunity upon thymic maturation, we investigated a novel concept whereby TCR expression set under the control of an inducible promoter would allow timely controlled TCR expression. After in vivo maturation and gene induction, preTs developed potent anti-leukemia effects. Engineered preTs provided protection even after repeated leukemia challenges by giving rise to effector and central memory cells. Importantly, adoptive transfer of TCR-transduced allogeneic preTs mediated anti-leukemia effect without evoking graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Earlier transgene induction forced CD8 + T-cell development was required to obtain a mature T-cell subset of targeted specificity, allowed engineered T cells to efficiently pass positive selection and abrogated the endogenous T-cell repertoire. Later induction favored CD4 differentiation and failed to produce a leukemia-reactive population emphasizing the dominant role of positive selection. Taken together, we provide new functional insights for the employment of TCR-engineered precursor cells as a controllable immunotherapeutic modality with significant anti-leukemia activity.
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We would like to thank R. Schwinzer and W. Baars for providing their radioisotope laboratory and the Cell Sorting Core Facility of the Hannover Medical School for their assistance. This work was supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the IFB-TX (grants SFB-738 and CBT_6, MGS), the Ph.D. program Molecular Medicine of the Hannover Medical School (HBRS) and the National Institutes of Health (R01 CA72669, BRB).