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3436 Expression of a Novel Chimeric Inhibitory Receptor Attenuates CD19 CAR T Cells: A Promising Strategy for Toxicity Mitigation

Program: Oral and Poster Abstracts
Session: 703. Cellular Immunotherapies: Basic and Translational: Poster II
Hematology Disease Topics & Pathways:
Research, Biological therapies, Translational Research, Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR)-T Cell Therapies, Therapies
Sunday, December 10, 2023, 6:00 PM-8:00 PM

Dustin A Cobb, PhD*, Lixia Liu*, Philip Mollica III*, Barbara Dziegielewska* and Daniel W. Lee, MD

Department of Pediatrics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA


Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells targeting CD19 are highly effective in patients with refractory/relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia and lymphoma but often trigger severe cytokine release syndrome (sCRS) and immune effector cell-associated neurotoxicity syndrome (ICANS). For r/rALL patients, as many as 77% develop Grade 3-5 CRS and 40% Grade 3-5 ICANS. sCRS occurs when hyperactivated CAR T cells undergo exponential expansion accompanied by the release of excessive amounts of inflammatory cytokines. This leads to a systemic pro-inflammatory state that can cause hypotension, multi-organ failure and even death. Tocilizumab is the only FDA-approved drug for CRS and despite concurrent corticosteroids, often fails to control CRS. Attempts to improve safety have been proposed, but have significant limitations, such as permanent removal of CARs. New and innovative methods to mitigate toxicities are needed.

The purpose of this study was to design and test the efficacy of a novel autoregulatory element in the form of a chimeric inhibitory receptor (CIR), that when engaged by a specific CRS-associated pro-inflammatory molecule would trigger inhibitory signaling within CAR T cells. We hypothesize that as cytokine levels increase following activation, these signals can be redirected through responsiveness of the CIR, leading to an attenuation of CAR activity. In this study, we have tested a CIR construct that couples the recognition of IFNγ to the signaling domain of the TIGIT inhibitory receptor. We co-expressed this CIR with a CD19.28ζ CAR to evaluate its ability to attenuate activation and cytokine production and to assess its cytotoxic activity.


An anti-IFNγ scFv followed by the transmembrane and intracellular domains of TIGIT were arranged in sequence with the truncated EGFR receptor followed by the CD19.28ζ FMC63 CAR with intervening T2A cleavage domains and cloned into a retroviral backbone. Transduction efficiency was assessed by staining with biotinylated CD19-Fc protein or biotinylated EGFR. Following expansion, memory and effector cell differentiation was evaluated by staining for CD45RO, CD45RA, CCR7, CD127, and CD95. Activation following stimulation with NALM-6 tumor cells was measured by staining for CD69, CD25, CD38, PD-1, and CD107a. Cytotoxicity was evaluated using bioluminescence. To mimic cell types present during CRS, we utilized a coculture assay that consists of CAR T cells, NALM-6 tumor cells, and either macrophages or dendritic cells (DC) differentiated from autologous CD14+ monocytes. Cocultures were incubated for 48 hr. and supernatants were collected for analyses by Luminex.


CD19 CARs co-expressing a CIR composed of an anti-IFNγ scFv coupled to TIGIT inhibitory signaling expanded during the manufacturing process as well as T cells expressing only CD19 CAR and displayed normal levels of CAR expression. The presence of the CIR did not affect the differentiation profile of memory and effector subsets. CIR-expressing CD19 CARs exhibited robust tumor cell killing of NALM-6 targets equivalent to CD19 CARs. Next, CD19 CAR/CIR cells were pretreated with IFNγ for 24 hr. and then cultured with NALM-6 cells. Exposure to IFNγ resulted in a significant abrogation in cytotoxicity, which was eventually restored with time. Activation profile analysis of CARs equipped with CIR signaling after target stimulation revealed an overall diminution of CARs expressing multiple (4 or 5) activation markers relative to CD19 CARs. Importantly, CIR signaling resulted in significant reductions in the levels of effector, stimulatory, and inflammatory mediators including IFNγ, TNFα, GM-CSF, and IL-17. CARs expressing the CIR exhibited slower killing kinetics when challenged with sequential stimulations by fresh tumor cells. However, in vivo anti-tumor cell activity was not adversely affected as CAR/CIR T cells robustly eliminated disease in leukemia-bearing NSG mice. Lastly, using an in vitro CRS assay, we sought to determine if attenuated CAR T cells would be less potent in activating myeloid cells. We observed that monocyte-derived macrophage and DC activation by CD19 CAR/CIR T cells was reduced as evidenced by decreased secretion of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines.


These results provide a compelling proof of concept of a novel self-regulating CAR T cell design with the potential to mitigate severe toxicities in patients.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

*signifies non-member of ASH