Regulatory T cells (Treg) modulate allograft immune responses and Treg-based cellular therapies can be used for prevention of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) following hematopoietic cell transplantation and for prevention of allograft rejection following tissue or organ transplantation. Treg adoptive transfer has limitations including that Treg do not necessarily home to sites where they are needed and can become inactivated in inflammatory milieus.


We used new technologies of T cell engineering to force the expression of a chimeric antigen receptor on T cells and Treg that recognizes labeled therapeutic monoclonal antibodies (mabCAR), allowing for precise control of their localization in vivo. The mabCAR recognizes fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC) through a FITC-specific single-chain variable fragment fused to a CD28 and TCRζ costimulatory domain. Any monoclonal antibody (mab) coupled to FITC within its Fc domain can be recognized. We tested this approach with T cells and Treg to ameliorate GvHD and induce tolerance to pancreatic islet grafts.


We first tested our mabCAR construct in conventional T cells (Tcon) which when transfected and stimulated with a FITC-mab become activated and expressed higher levels of CD44 (p=0.0003), CD25 (p=0.009) and produced more IFNγ (p=0.04). To test if mabCAR transient transfection alters Tcon homing after adoptive transfer, we injected luc+ mabCAR Tcon directed against MAdCAM1 (a gut and lymph node endothelial integrin) or SDF1 (a chemokine mainly expressed in the bone marrow) into allogeneic hosts. MAdCAM1-directed Tcon mainly homed to the gut and lymph nodes, while SDF1-directed Tcon homed to bones and spleen. SDF1-directed Tcon induced a milder GvHD (p<0.001), demonstrating that cell homing impacts GvHD severity.

We then tested mabCAR Treg ability to maintain their suppressive activity in vitro and in vivo. We found that mabCAR transiently transfected into Treg have increased ability to proliferate in response to anti-CD3/CD28 stimulatory beads (p<0.01) and highly suppress Tcon proliferation when co-cultured with allogeneic irradiated splenocytes. We injected MAdCAM1 directed Treg in an allogeneic GvHD model and these mabCAR Treg prolonged survival (p=0.03), improved GvHD score (p<0.001) and mouse weight profile (p<0.001), thus demonstrating that mabCAR Treg retain regulatory functions.

Finally, we tested if mabCAR Treg could induce tolerance to allogeneic pancreatic islet grafts in sublethally irradiated hosts. Luc+gfp+ mabCAR Treg homed and expanded over time (p<0.05) to the site of the allogeneic islet grafts (right kidney capsule) when FITC-anti-allogeneic MHC-I mab directed the Treg as compared to isotype mab controls (see figure). Allo-MHC-I directed mabCAR-Treg prolonged allogeneic islet graft survival in comparison to isotype-mabCAR Treg (p=0.002) allowing for production of higher insulin levels. To assess if allo-MHC-I Treg promoted antigen-specific tolerance, we performed secondary skin graft transplantation. We found that mice which received MHC-I Treg showed a significant delay in the rejection of skin grafts from mice with the same MHC mismatch as the previous islet-allografts in comparison to third-party skin grafts (p=0.02) offering strong evidence that CAR-Treg could be used to enhance antigen-specific graft protection.


MabCAR expression can be used to control immune cell homing after transfer in different models according to localizing mab availability. We believe that the mabCAR approach may represent a new tool for optimizing cellular therapies to modulate GvHD and for inducing tolerance in islet and organ transplantation.


Pierini:Stanford University: Patents & Royalties. Iliopoulou:Stanford University: Patents & Royalties. Negrin:Stanford University: Patents & Royalties. Kim:Stanford University: Patents & Royalties. Meyer:Stanford University: Patents & Royalties.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.