T-cell receptors are integral membrane proteins that recognise foreign antigens and initiate a series of intracellular signalling cascades that allow the immune system to fight infection. To avoid autoimmune diseases, T-cells must be able to discriminate between ‘self’ and ‘foreign’ antigens but this discrimination may also prevent the immune system from recognising and destroying tumour cells.
Researchers led by a team from the Max-Delbrück-Center for Molecular Medicine have now developed transgenic mice that produce T-cell receptors that recognise human cancer cell antigens and could potentially be introduced into the T cells of cancer patients. Using embryonic stem cells loaded with human DNA, the team generated transgenic mice that express the entire human T-cell repertoire. Negative selection normally removes maturing T-cells that are capable of binding strongly to ‘self’ antigens but the mouse does not recognise human cancer cell antigens as ‘self’ and T-cells expressing receptors to these antigens are allowed to survive. T-cells with such high affinity receptors for cancer cell antigens are not produced in humans and the researchers hope that introducing the high affinity receptors into the T-cells of cancer sufferers will boost the immune system’s ability to recognise and destroy tumour cells. A first clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy and tolerability of the methodology in cancer patients is planned.
The study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.