Epigenetic Priming of Bladder Cancer Cells With Decitabine Increases Cytotoxicity of Human EGFR and CD44v6 CAR Engineered T-Cells.

Treatment of B-cell malignancies with CD19-directed chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells marked a new era in immunotherapy, which yet has to be successfully adopted to solid cancers. Epigenetic inhibitors of DNA methyltransferases (DNMTi) and histone deacetylases (HDACi) can induce broad changes in gene expression of malignant cells, thus making these inhibitors interesting combination partners for immunotherapeutic approaches.

Urothelial carcinoma cell lines (UCC) and benign uroepithelial HBLAK cells pretreated with the DNMTi decitabine or the HDACi romidepsin were co-incubated with CAR T-cells directed against EGFR or CD44v6, and subsequent cytotoxicity assays were performed. Effects on T-cell cytotoxicity and surface antigen expression on UCC were determined by flow cytometry. We also performed next-generation mRNA sequencing of inhibitor-treated UCC and siRNA-mediated knockdown of potential regulators of CAR T-cell killing.

Exposure to decitabine but not romidepsin enhanced CAR T-cell cytotoxicity towards all UCC lines, but not towards the benign HBLAK cells. Increased killing could neither be attributed to enhanced target antigen expression (EGFR and CD44v6) nor fully explained by changes in the T-cell ligands PD-L1, PD-L2, ICAM-1, or CD95. Instead, gene expression analysis suggested that regulators of cell survival and apoptosis were differentially induced by the treatment. Decitabine altered the balance between survival and apoptosis factors towards an apoptosis-sensitive state associated with increased CAR T-cell killing, while romidepsin, at least partially, tilted this balance in the opposite direction. Knockdown experiments with siRNA in UCC confirmed BID and BCL2L1/BCLX as two key factors for the altered susceptibility of the UCC.

Our data suggest that the combination of decitabine with CAR T-cell therapy is an attractive novel therapeutic approach to enhance tumor-specific killing of bladder cancer. Since BID and BCL2L1 are essential determinants for the susceptibility of a wide variety of malignant cells, their targeting might be additionally suitable for combination with immunotherapies, e.g., CAR T-cells or checkpoint inhibitors in other malignancies.

Frontiers in immunology. 2021 Nov 17*** epublish ***

Camilla M Grunewald, Corinna Haist, Carolin König, Patrick Petzsch, Arthur Bister, Elfriede Nößner, Constanze Wiek, Kathrin Scheckenbach, Karl Köhrer, Günter Niegisch, Helmut Hanenberg, Michèle J Hoffmann

Department of Urology, Medical Faculty, Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf, Duesseldorf, Germany., Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery, Medical Faculty, Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf, Duesseldorf, Germany., Biological and Medical Research Center (BMFZ), Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf, Duesseldorf, Germany., Immunoanalytics: Tissue Control of Immunocytes, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München, Munich, Germany.

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