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Bortezomib enhances cytotoxicity of ex vivo-expanded gamma delta T cells against acute myeloid leukemia and T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia


Engagement between the natural killer group 2, member D (NKG2D) receptor and its ligands is one of the main mechanisms used by immune cells to target stressed cells for cell death. NKG2D ligands are known markers of cellular stress and are often upregulated on tumor cells. Certain drugs can further increase NKG2D ligand levels, thereby making tumor cells more susceptible to immune cell detection and destruction. However, the effectiveness of this approach appears to be limited with drug treatment alone, possibly due to immune dysregulation in the setting of malignancies. We hypothesized that a more effective approach would be a combination of NKG2D ligand-inducing drugs, such as the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib, and ex vivo-expanded peripheral blood γδ T cells (i.e., Vγ9Vδ2 T cells). Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a high-risk hematologic malignancy, and treatment has shown limited benefit with the addition of bortezomib to standard chemotherapy regimens. Two AML cells lines, Nomo-1 and Kasumi-1, were treated with increasing concentrations of bortezomib, and changes in NKG2D ligand expression were measured. Bortezomib treatment significantly increased expression of the NKG2D ligand UL16 binding protein (ULBP) 2/5/6 in both cell lines. Vγ9Vδ2 T cells were expanded and isolated from peripheral blood of healthy donors to generate a final cellular product with a mean of 96% CD3+/γδ T-cell receptor-positive cells. Combination treatment of the AML cell lines with γδ T cells and bortezomib resulted in significantly greater cytotoxicity than γδ T cells alone, even at lower effector-to-target ratios. Based on the positive results against AML and the generalizable mechanism of this combination approach, it was also tested against T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), another high-risk leukemia. Similarly, bortezomib increased ULBP 2/5/6 expression in T-ALL cell lines, Jurkat and MOLT-4 and improved the cytotoxicity of γδ T cells against each line. Collectively, these results show that bortezomib enhances γδ T-cell-mediated killing of both AML and T-ALL cells in part through increased NKG2D ligand-receptor interaction. Furthermore, proof-of-concept for the combination of ex vivo-expanded γδ T cells with stress ligand-inducing drugs as a therapeutic platform for high-risk leukemias is demonstrated.

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