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Keywords:

  • graft-versus-leukemia;
  • follicular lymphoma;
  • acute lymphoblastic leukemia;
  • allo-reactivity;
  • immunotherapy

Abstract

T cells mediating a graft-versus-leukemia/lymphoma effects without causing graft-versus-host disease would greatly improve the safety and applicability of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. We recently demonstrated that highly peptide- and HLA-specific T cells can readily be generated against allogeneic HLA-A*02:01 in complex with a peptide from the B cell-restricted protein CD20. Here, we show that such CD20-specific T cells can easily be induced from naïve precursors in cord blood, demonstrating that they do not represent cross-reactive memory cells. The cells displayed high avidity and mediated potent cytotoxic effects on cells from patients with the CD20pos B cell malignancies follicular lymphoma (FL) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). However, the cytotoxicity was consistently lower for cells from two of the ALL patients. The ALL cells that were less efficiently killed did not display lower surface expression of CD20 or HLA-A*02:01, or mutations in the CD20 sequence. Peptide pulsing fully restored the levels of cytotoxicity, indicating that they are indeed susceptible to T cell-mediated killing. Adoptive transfer of CD20-specific T cells to an HLA-A*02:01pos patient requires an HLA-A*02:01neg, but otherwise HLA identical, donor. A search clarified that donors meeting these criteria can be readily identified even for patients with rare haplotypes. The results bear further promise for the clinical utility of CD20-specific T cells in B cell malignancies.