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Precision engineering of an anti-HLA-A2 chimeric antigen receptor in regulatory T cells for transplant immune tolerance

By Yannick D. Muller, Leonardo M.R. Ferreira, Emilie Ronin, Patrick Ho, Vinh Nguyen, Gaetano Faleo, Yu Zhou, Karim Lee, Kevin K. Leung, Nikolaos Skartsis, Anupurna M. Kaul, Arend Mulder, Frans H.J. Claas, James A Wells, Jeffrey A. Bluestone, Qizhi Tang

Posted 17 Aug 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.08.16.456548

Infusion of regulatory T cells (Tregs) engineered with a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) targeting donor-derived human leukocyte antigen (HLA) is a promising strategy to promote transplant tolerance. Here, we describe an anti-HLA-A2 CAR (A2-CAR) generated by grafting the complementarity-determining regions (CDRs) of a human monoclonal anti-HLA-A2 antibody into the framework regions of the Herceptin 4D5 single-chain variable fragment and fusing it with a CD28-zeta signaling domain. The CDR-grafted A2-CAR maintained the specificity of the original antibody. We then generated HLA-A2 mono-specific human CAR Tregs either by deleting the endogenous T-cell receptor (TCR) via CRISPR/Cas9 and introducing the A2-CAR using lentiviral transduction or by directly integrating the CAR construct into the TCR alpha constant locus using homology-directed repair. These A2-CAR+TCRdeficient human Tregs maintained both Treg phenotype and function in vitro. Moreover, they selectively accumulated in HLA-A2-expressing islets transplanted from either HLA-A2 transgenic mice or deceased human donors. A2-CAR+TCRdeficient Tregs did not impair the function of these HLA-A2+ islets, whereas similarly engineered A2-CAR+TCRdeficientCD4+ conventional T cells rejected the islets in less than 2 weeks. A2-CAR+TCRdeficient Tregs delayed graft-versus-host disease only in the presence of HLA-A2, expressed either by co-transferred peripheral blood mononuclear cells or by the recipient mice. Altogether, we demonstrate that genome-engineered mono-antigen-specific A2-CAR Tregs localize to HLA-A2-expressing grafts and exhibit antigen-dependent in vivo suppression, independent of TCR expression. These approaches may be applied towards developing precision Treg cell therapies for transplant tolerance.

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