Human telomerase reverse transcriptase-transduced human cytotoxic T cells suppress the growth of human melanoma in immunodeficient mice.
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Immunotherapy of melanoma by adoptive transfer of tumor-reactive T lymphocytes aims at increasing the number of activated effectors at the tumor site that can mediate tumor regression. The limited life span of human T lymphocytes, however, hampers obtaining sufficient cells for adoptive transfer therapy. We have shown previously that the life span of human T cells can be greatly extended by transduction with the human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) gene, without altering antigen specificity or effector function. We developed a murine model to evaluate the efficacy of hTERT-transduced human CTLs with antitumor reactivity to eradicate autologous tumor cells in vivo. We transplanted the human melanoma cell line melAKR or melAKR-Flu, transduced with a retrovirus encoding the influenza virus/HLA-A2 epitope, in RAG-2(-/-) IL-2Rgamma (-/-) double knockout mice. Adoptive transfer of the hTERT-transduced influenza virus-specific CTL clone INFA24 or clone INFA13 inhibited the growth of melAKR-Flu tumors in vivo and not of the parental melAKR melanoma cells. Furthermore, the hTERT-transduced CTL clone INFA13 inhibited tumor growth to the same extent in vivo as the untransduced CTL clone, as determined by in vivo imaging of luciferase gene-transduced melAKR-Flu tumors, indicating that hTERT did not affect the in vivo function of CTL. These results demonstrate that hTERT-transduced human CTLs are capable of mediating antitumor activity in vivo in an antigen-specific manner. hTERT-transduced MART-1-specific CTL clones AKR4D8 and AKR103 inhibited the growth of syngeneic melAKR tumors in vivo. Strikingly, melAKR-Flu cells were equally killed by the MART-1-specific CTL clones and influenza virus-specific CTL clones in vitro, but only influenza-specific CTLs were able to mediate tumor regression in vivo. The influenza-specific CTL clones were found to produce higher levels of IFNgamma on tumor cell recognition than the MART-1-specific CTL clones, which may result from the higher functional avidity of the influenza virus-specific CTL clones. Also, melAKR-Flu tumors were growing faster than melAKR tumors, which may have surpassed the relatively modest antitumor effect of the MART-1-specific CTL, as compared with the influenza virus-specific CTL. Taken together, the adoptive transfer model described here shows that hTERT-transduced T cells are functional in vivo, and allows us to evaluate the balance between functional activity of the CTL and tumor growth rate in vivo, which determines the efficacy of CTLs to eradicate tumors in adoptive transfer therapy.