Trogocytosis, the transfer of membrane patches from target to immune effector cells, is a signature of tumor-T cell interaction. In this study, we used the trogocytosis phenomenon to study functional diversity within tumor-specific T cell clones with identical TCR specificity. MART-1(26-35)-specific CD8 T cell clones, which differed in their trogocytosis capacity (low [2D11], intermediate [2G1], high [2E2]), were generated from melanoma patients. Functional evaluation of the clones showed that the percentage of trogocytosis-capable T cells closely paralleled each clone's IFN-γ and TNF-α production, lysosome degranulation, and lysis of peptide-pulsed targets and unmodified melanoma. The highly cytotoxic 2E2 clone displayed the highest TCR peptide binding affinity, whereas the low-activity 2D11 clone showed TCR binding to peptide-MHC in a CD8-dependent manner. TCR analysis revealed Vβ16 for clones 2E2 and 2G1 and Vβ14 for 2D11. When peptide-affinity differences were bypassed by nonspecific TCR stimulation, clones 2E2 and 2D11 still manifested distinctive signaling patterns. The high-activity 2E2 clone displayed prolonged phosphorylation of ribosomal protein S6, an integrator of MAPK and AKT activation, whereas the low-activity 2D11 clone generated shorter and weaker phosphorylation. Screening the two clones with identical TCR Vβ by immunoreceptor array showed higher phosphorylation of NK, T, and B cell Ag (NTB-A), a SLAM family homophilic receptor, in clone 2E2 compared with 2G1. Specific blocking of NTB-A on APCs markedly reduced cytokine production by CD8 lymphocytes, pointing to a possible contribution of NTB-A costimulation to T cell functional diversity. This finding identifies NTB-A as a potential target for improving anti-cancer immunotherapy.
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