T Cells Engineered With Chimeric Antigen Receptors Targeting NKG2D Ligands Display Lethal Toxicity in Mice
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Ligands for the NKG2D receptor are overexpressed on tumors, making them interesting immunotherapy targets. To assess the tumoricidal properties of T cells directed to attack NKG2D ligands, we engineered murine T cells with two distinct NKG2D-based chimeric antigen receptors (CARs): (i) a fusion between the NKG2D receptor and the CD3ζ chain and (ii) a conventional second-generation CAR, where the extracellular domain of NKG2D was fused to CD28 and CD3ζ. To enhance the CAR surface expression, we also engineered T cells to coexpress DAP10. In vitro functionality and surface expression levels of all three CARs was greater in BALB/c T cells than C57BL/6 T cells, indicating strain-specific differences. Upon adoptive transfer of NKG2D-CAR-T cells into syngeneic animals, we observed significant clinical toxicity resulting in morbidity and mortality. The severity of these toxicities varied between the CAR configurations and paralleled their in vitro NKG2D surface expression. BALB/c mice were more sensitive to these toxicities than C57BL/6 mice, consistent with the higher in vitro functionality of BALB/c T cells. Treatment with cyclophosphamide prior to adoptive transfer exacerbated the toxicity. We conclude that while NKG2D ligands may be useful targets for immunotherapy, the pursuit of NKG2D-based CAR-T cell therapies should be undertaken with caution.