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ObjectivesRegulatory T cells (Treg) play a major role in the suppression of protective anti-tumour T cell responses. In the CT26 BALB/c murine model of colorectal carcinoma, Tregs differentially suppress responses to two characterised CD8+ T epitopes, AH1 and GSW11, which results in an absence of detectable IFN-γ-producing GSW11-specific T cells in the spleen and lymph nodes of tumour challenged mice. Activation of GSW11-specific T cells correlates with protection against tumour progression. We wanted to examine the presence of non-functional GSW11-specific T cells in Treg replete and depleted mice, assess their phenotype and their affinity compared to AH1-specific T cells.MethodsWe used peptide-specific tetramers to identify tumour-specific CD8+ T cells and assessed the cell surface expression of markers associated with exhaustion (PD-1, Tim3 and Lag-3) and their function by IFN-g production using flow cytometry. We also assessed the T cell receptor (TcR) clonality of tumour-specific T cells. Tetramer competition assays were performed to determine the relative affinity of identified TcR.ResultsHere, we show that GSW11-specific T cells are in fact induced in Treg-replete, CT26-bearing mice, where they make up the majority of tumour-infiltrating CD8+ lymphocytes, but exhibit an 'exhausted' phenotype. This dysfunctional phenotype is induced early in the anti-tumour response in tumours. Depletion of Tregs prior to tumour challenge correlates with an altered T cell receptor (TcR) repertoire. Moreover, the avidity of GSW11-specific TcRs that expanded in the absence of Tregs was significantly lower compared with TcRs of CD8+populations that were diminished in protective anti-tumour responses.ConclusionOur results indicate that Tregs suppress the induction of protective anti-tumour T cell responses and may signify that low-avidity T cells play an important role in this protection.

Original publication




Journal article


Immunotherapy advances

Publication Date





Centre for Cancer Immunology, School of Cancer Sciences, University of Southampton Faculty of Medicine, University Hospital Southampton, Southampton, UK.