The study used a genetic mouse model to track immune responses and study how T cells respond to tumors.
A recent study published in Nature Immunology reveals an unexpected finding about the rapid exhaustion of T cells upon encountering a tumor. Within a mere six to 12 hours, T cells that should be capable of attacking cancer cells become dysfunctional. This discovery challenges existing theories about T cell exhaustion and could have significant implications for cancer immunotherapies.
- T cells become dysfunctional or “exhausted” within hours of encountering a tumor, a much faster time window than previously thought.
- The findings include dramatic changes in chromatin accessibility and gene expression within six to 12 hours.
- The changes in T cells were observed across different tumor types, and once dysfunctional, the T cells could not regain function.
- Negative tumor signals can override functional programs in fully activated and functional T cells.
- The researchers also found certain trends, such as increased expression of inflammation-associated genes during infection, which are not turned on in the tumor model.
- The team is exploring ways to boost T cell function through infection and other means of activating innate immune pathways.
- The study builds on previous research that found thousands of differences in genes in tumor-activated T cells compared to infection-activated T cells.
- The study’s findings challenge existing ideas about T cell exhaustion and may lead to more personalized and effective immunotherapies for cancer patients.