Tumor-Specific T Cell Dysfunction Is a Dynamic Antigen-Driven Differentiation Program Initiated Early during Tumorigenesis.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Immunity, Volume 45, Issue 2, p.389-401 (2016)


Bioinformatics Core Facility, Genomics Core Facility


CD8(+) T cells recognizing tumor-specific antigens are detected in cancer patients but are dysfunctional. Here we developed a tamoxifen-inducible liver cancer mouse model with a defined oncogenic driver antigen (SV40 large T-antigen) to follow the activation and differentiation of naive tumor-specific CD8(+) T (TST) cells after tumor initiation. Early during the pre-malignant phase of tumorigenesis, TST cells became dysfunctional, exhibiting phenotypic, functional, and transcriptional features similar to dysfunctional T cells isolated from late-stage human tumors. Thus, T cell dysfunction seen in advanced human cancers may already be established early during tumorigenesis. Although the TST cell dysfunctional state was initially therapeutically reversible, it ultimately evolved into a fixed state. Persistent antigen exposure rather than factors associated with the tumor microenvironment drove dysfunction. Moreover, the TST cell differentiation and dysfunction program exhibited features distinct from T cell exhaustion in chronic infections. Strategies to overcome this antigen-driven, cell-intrinsic dysfunction may be required to improve cancer immunotherapy.