Detection of Low-Frequency Epitope-Specific T Cells in Blood of Healthy Individuals according to an Optimized In Vitro Amplification System

Shweta Mahajan, Dian Kortleve, Reno Debets, Dora Hammerl*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Detection and amplification of epitope-specific T cells hold great promise for diagnosis and therapy of cancer patients. Currently, measurement and retrieval of epitope-specific T cells is hampered by limited availability of patients’ biomaterials and lack of sensitive and easy-to-implement T cell priming and expansion. We have developed an in vitro T cell amplification system starting from healthy donor blood and tested different subsets and ratios of autologous T cells and APCs as well as the resting period between amplification cycles. We demonstrated in 10 different donors significantly enhanced frequency of T cells specific for MelanA/HLA-A2, which relied on coculturing of naive T cells and CD11c+ dendritic cells in a 1:1 ratio followed by three weekly amplification cycles using the effluent of the naive T cell sort as APCs, a 24-h rest period prior to every reamplification cycle, and IFN-γ production as a readout for epitope-specific T cells. Using this system, MelanA/HLA-A2-specific T cells were enriched by 200-fold, measuring up to 20-60% of all T cells. We extended this system to enrich NY-ESO-1/HLA-A2- and BMLF-1/HLAA2-specific T cells, examples of a cancer germline Ag and an oncoviral Ag differing in their ability to bind to HLA-A2 and the presence of specific T cells in the naive and, in case of BMLF-1, also the Ag-experienced repertoire. Collectively, we have developed a sensitive and easy-to-implement in vitro T cell amplification method to enrich epitope-specific T cells that is expected to facilitate research and clinical utility regarding T cell diagnosis and treatments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2239-2247
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Health Holland Public-Private Partnership Grant EMC-TKI LSH20020.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.


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