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  • Poster presentation
  • Open Access

Specific increase in T cell potency via structure-based design of a T cell receptor for adoptive immunotherapy

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Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer20142 (Suppl 3) :P28

  • Published:


  • Melanoma
  • Melanoma Cell Line
  • Adoptive Immunotherapy
  • Normal Peripheral Blood
  • Sequence Substitution

Adoptive immunotherapy with antigen-specific T lymphocytes is a powerful strategy for cancer treatment. However, most tumor antigens are non-reactive "self" proteins, which presents an immunotherapy design challenge. Studies have shown that tumor-specific T cell receptors (TCRs) can be transduced into normal peripheral blood lymphocytes, which persist after transfer in about 30% of patients and effectively destroy tumor cells. Still, recent clinical trial with affinity-enhanced TCRs has resulted in severe effects due to cross reactivity to an unrelated peptide. Thus, the challenge for targeted T cell therapy remains to increase T cell potency in order to improve clinical responses and ensure on-target specificity by avoiding unwanted cross reactivity. We used structure-based design to predict point mutations of a TCR (DMF5) that enhance its binding affinity for an agonist tumor differentiation antigen-major histocompatibility complex (pMHC), Mart-1(27L)-HLA-A2, which elicits full T cell activation to trigger immune responses. Structural based approaches have been used to increase TCR affinity, however their potential cross-reactivity has not been reported. Here, we analyzed the effects of selected TCR point mutations alone and in combination on T cell activation potency. Further, we analyzed their specificity and cross-reactivity with related antigens presented by different melanoma cell lines and donor-derived antigen presenting cells. Our structure-based approach allowed us to rationally design sequence substitutions that improve binding in contact areas between the TCR and pMHC without increasing cross-reactivity with a wide variety of self-antigens. We identified and evaluated point mutations in critical TCR positions resulting in more potent T cell activation but maintaining overall specificity. When double and triple combination mutations were introduced, they exhibited an additive enhancement that further improved T cell activation while retaining a high degree of specificity.


Such affinity-optimized TCRs could potentially be used in adoptive immunotherapy to treat melanoma while minimizing adverse autoimmunity effects.

Authors’ Affiliations

NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY, United States
Xiangxue Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd, GuangZhou, Peoples Republic of China
NYU, New York, NY, United States
Perelman School of Medicine University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, United States
US National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, MD, United States


© Malecek et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.