Antigen-independent tonic signaling by chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) can increase differentiation and exhaustion of T cells, limiting their potency. Incorporating 4-1BB costimulation in CARs may enable T cells to resist this functional exhaustion; however, the potential ramifications of tonic 4-1BB signaling in CAR T cells remain unclear. Here, we found that tonic CAR-derived 4-1BB signaling can produce toxicity in T cells via continuous TRAF2-dependent activation of the nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) pathway and augmented FAS-dependent cell death. This mechanism was amplified in a non-self-inactivating gammaretroviral vector through positive feedback on the long terminal repeat (LTR) promoter, further enhancing CAR expression and tonic signaling. Attenuating CAR expression by substitution with a self-inactivating lentiviral vector minimized tonic signaling and improved T cell expansion and anti-tumor function. These studies illuminate the interaction between tonic CAR signaling and the chosen expression platform and identify inhibitory properties of the 4-1BB costimulatory domain that have direct implications for rational CAR design. Gomes-Silva et al. model tonic signaling from chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) harboring the 4-1BB endodomain and describe a mechanism through which this signaling produces toxicity in T cells. CAR-driven tonic 4-1BB signaling activates the LTR promoter in gammaretroviral vectors, thus further amplifying the toxicity and undermining CAR T cell anti-tumor activity.
Gomes-Silva, D., Mukherjee, M., Srinivasan, M., Krenciute, G., Dakhova, O., Zheng, Y., … Mamonkin, M. (2017). Tonic 4-1BB Costimulation in Chimeric Antigen Receptors Impedes T Cell Survival and Is Vector-Dependent. Cell Reports, 21(1), 17–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2017.09.015