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Upregulation Of Tim-3 And PD-1 Expression Is Associated With Tumor Antigen–specific CD8+ T Cell Dysfunction In Melanoma Patients

Julien Fourcade, Zhaojun Sun, Mourad Benallaoua, Philippe Guillaume, Immanuel F. Luescher, Cindy Sander, John M. Kirkwood, Vijay Kuchroo, Hassane M. Zarour

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The paradoxical coexistence of spontaneous tumor antigen–specific immune responses with progressive disease in cancer patients furthers the need to dissect the molecular pathways involved in tumor-induced T cell dysfunction. In patients with advanced melanoma, we have previously shown that the cancer-germline antigen NY-ESO-1 stimulates spontaneous NY-ESO-1–specific CD8+ T cells that up-regulate PD-1 expression. We also observed that PD-1 regulates NY-ESO-1–specific CD8+ T cell expansion upon chronic antigen stimulation. In the present study, we show that a fraction of PD-1+ NY-ESO-1–specific CD8+ T cells in patients with advanced melanoma up-regulates Tim-3 expression and that Tim-3+PD-1+ NY-ESO-1–specific CD8+ T cells are more dysfunctional than Tim-3−PD-1+ and Tim-3−PD-1− NY-ESO-1–specific CD8+ T cells, producing less IFN-γ, TNF, and IL-2. Tim-3–Tim-3L blockade enhanced cytokine production by NY-ESO-1–specific CD8+ T cells upon short ex vivo stimulation with cognate peptide, thus enhancing their functional capacity. In addition, Tim-3–Tim-3L blockade enhanced cytokine production and proliferation of NY-ESO-1–specific CD8+ T cells upon prolonged antigen stimulation and acted in synergy with PD-1–PD-L1 blockade. Collectively, our findings support the use of Tim-3–Tim-3L blockade together with PD-1–PD-L1 blockade to reverse tumor-induced T cell exhaustion/dysfunction in patients with advanced melanoma.