BACKGROUND. T cell immunoreceptor with Ig and ITIM domains (TIGIT) is an inhibitory receptor expressed on T, NK and NKT cells, sharing structural and mechanistic similarities with PD-1 and CTLA-4. TIGIT competes with CD226, its partner receptor, for the binding to CD155 ligand: signaling triggered upon CD155 binding to CD226 potentiates T cell receptor (TCR) signaling and CD8 + T cell cytotoxicity against tumor cells (positive signaling). On the contrary, concomitant TIGIT expression on the cell surface prevents CD226 activation either by sequestering CD155 or by impeding CD226 homodimerization and phosphorylation (negative signaling).

Recently, TIGIT was shown to be expressed on the surface of normal memory B cells, where it could directly act to suppress T cell responses. No data are available on TIGIT or CD226 expression by chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells.

AIM AND METHODS. Our aim was to investigate expression of the TIGIT and CD226 receptors and of the CD155 ligand in a cohort of clinically and molecularly annotated CLL patient samples. To this end, we designed a multiparametric panel of antibodies for flow cytometry and examined expression of the TIGIT/CD226/CD155 axis in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from our patient cohort. To investigate the impact of TIGIT/CD226 engagement on B cell responses, purified leukemic B cells were activated either through the B cell receptor (BCR) using an αIgM polyclonal antibody or with CpG oligonucleotide and interleukin 15 (IL-15) to induce proliferation. In selected experiments, we added recombinant human (Rh) TIGIT-Fc or CD155-Fc chimeras and αTIGIT or αCD226 blocking antibodies to interfere with this axis.

RESULTS. Surface expression of TIGIT, CD226 and CD155 was evaluated in a cohort of 115 CLL samples and compared to age- and sex-matched healthy subjects. Both TIGIT and CD226 were upregulated on leukemic B cells compared to normal B lymphocytes, while CD155 was expressed at lower levels. A similar trend was observed on CD4 + and CD8 + T lymphocytes. High-risk CLLs (unmutated IgV genes, unfavorable cytogenetics and advanced stage) were predominantly TIGIT low and CD226 high, indicating an unbalance towards "positive signaling". Results were confirmed by confocal microscopy analyses on lymph node (LN) biopsies, which showed i) an overall higher TIGIT expression in CLL compared to reactive LNs and ii) among CLL LNs a stronger TIGIT positivity in mutated vs unmutated cases, confirming flow cytometry data. In line with these findings, Richter's syndrome samples and patient-derived xenografts models showed the lowest TIGIT and the highest CD226 levels. We next examined TIGIT axis expression during the follow up of CLL cases who underwent treatment with BTK inhibitor (BTKi). While CD226 levels remained unmodified upon treatment, a sharp decrease in surface TIGIT was detected soon after BTKi initiation.

Since TIGIT acts by decreasing TCR signaling to shut down T cell responses, we hypothesized similar functions in B cells. By crosslinking the BCR with an αIgM antibody in a selected cohort of IGHV UM CLL cells, we found that BTK phosphorylation was induced to a lesser extent in TIGIT high compared to TIGIT low samples, suggesting that TIGIT is a marker of CLL cell anergy. Accordingly, interruption of receptors/ligand interactions with RhTIGIT-Fc chimera or with αTIGIT or αCD226 blocking antibodies, modulated BCR signaling capacity. Specifically, in TIGIT high samples, preventing receptor engagement by CD155 increased αIgM-induced BTK phosphorylation; in contrast, in TIGIT low samples, blocking CD155 interaction affected mostly CD226 signaling, thereby depotentiating BCR activation. Similar results were obtained when stimulating CLL cells with CpG/IL-15. Interestingly, we observed a significant upregulation of surface CD226 in CLL cells cultured for 6 days in the presence of CpG/IL-15.

CONCLUSIONS. These results show for the first-time expression of TIGIT by CLL cells. Furthermore, they indicate that TIGIT is a marker of CLL cells anergy, whereas activated CLL cells express high levels of CD226. Inhibition of TIGIT binding to CD155 partially restores B cell signaling and activation. Future studies are needed to gain insights on the mechanisms behind its deregulation and to obtain a complete functional characterization of the axis.


Coscia:AbbVie: Honoraria, Other; Janssen: Honoraria, Other, Research Funding; AstraZeneca: Honoraria; Gilead: Honoraria. Gaidano:Abbvie: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Speakers Bureau; Astrazeneca: Consultancy, Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Beigene: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Incyte: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Janssen: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Speakers Bureau. Allan:Genentech: Consultancy, Research Funding; Epizyme: Consultancy; Pharmacyclics LLC, an AbbVie Company: Consultancy, Honoraria; Janssen: Consultancy, Honoraria, Research Funding; AstraZeneca: Consultancy, Honoraria; BeiGene: Consultancy, Honoraria; AbbVie: Consultancy, Honoraria; Celegene: Research Funding; AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, Janssen Biotech Inc, TG Therapeutics Inc.: Research Funding; AbbVie Inc, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, BeiGene, Janssen Biotech Inc, Pharmacyclics LLC: Consultancy; AbbVie Inc, Ascentage Pharma, Epizyme, Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, Janssen Biotech Inc, Pharmacyclics LLC: Other: Advisory Committee; TG Therapeutics: Research Funding. Furman:Oncotracker: Consultancy; Verastem: Consultancy; Abbvie: Consultancy, Honoraria, Other: Expert testimony; Sunesis: Consultancy; Incyte: Consultancy; Beigene: Consultancy; Acerta/AstraZeneca: Consultancy; Loxo Oncology: Consultancy; Genentech: Consultancy; Morphosys: Consultancy; Pharmacyclics: Consultancy; Sanofi: Consultancy; TG Therapeutics: Consultancy; X4 Pharmaceuticals: Consultancy; Janssen: Consultancy, Honoraria; AstraZeneca: Honoraria. Deaglio:Heidelberg Pharma: Research Funding; Astra Zeneca: Research Funding.

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