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Expression of LAG-3 defines exhaustion of intratumoral PD-1+ T cells and correlates with poor outcome in follicular lymphoma

Yang, Z.Z., Kim, H.J., Villasboas, J.C. et al.

Exhausted T-cells in follicular lymphoma (FL) typically express PD-1, but expression of PD-1 is not limited to exhausted cells. Although expected to be functionally suppressed, we found that the population of intratumoral PD-1+ T cells were predominantly responsible for production of cytokines and granules. This surprising finding prompted us to explore the involvement of LAG-3 to specifically identify functionally exhausted T cells. We found that LAG-3 was expressed on a subset of intratumoral T cells from FL and LAG-3+ T cells almost exclusively came from PD-1+ population. CyTOF analysis revealed that intratumoral LAG-3+ T cells were phenotypically heterogeneous as LAG-3 was expressed on a variety of T cell subsets. In contrast to PD-1+LAG-3- cells, intratumoral PD-1+LAG-3+ T cells exhibited reduced capacity to produce cytokines and granules. LAG-3 expression could be substantially upregulated on CD4+ or CD8+ T cells by IL-12, a cytokine that has been shown to induce T-cell exhaustion and be increased in the serum of lymphoma patients. Furthermore, we found that blockade of both PD-1 and LAG-3 signaling enhanced the function of intratumoral CD8+ T cells resulting in increased IFN-γ and IL-2 production. Clinically, LAG-3 expression on intratumoral T cells correlated with a poor outcome in FL patients. Taken together, we find that LAG-3 expression is necessary to identify the population of intratumoral PD-1+ T cells that are functionally exhausted and, in contrast, find that PD-1+LAG-3- T cells are simply activated cells that are immunologically functional. These findings may have important implications for immune checkpoint therapy in FL.

Citation

Yang, Z.Z., Kim, H.J., Villasboas, J.C. et al. "Expression of LAG-3 defines exhaustion of intratumoral PD-1+ T cells and correlates with poor outcome in follicular lymphoma" Oncotarget (2017): 61,425–39