, Volume 61, Issue 8, pp 1169-1182,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 30 Dec 2011

Ex vivo enrichment of circulating anti-tumor T cells from both cutaneous and ocular melanoma patients: clinical implications for adoptive cell transfer therapy


Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) have been successfully used for adoptive cell transfer (ACT) immunotherapy; however, due to their scarce availability, this therapy is possible for a limited fraction of cutaneous melanoma patients. We assessed whether an effective protocol for ex vivo T-cell expansion from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), suitable for ACT of both cutaneous and ocular melanoma patients, could be identified. PBMCs from both cutaneous and ocular melanoma patients were stimulated in vitro with autologous, irradiated melanoma cells (mixed lymphocyte tumor cell culture; MLTCs) in the presence of IL-2 and IL-15 followed by the rapid expansion protocol (REP). The functional activity of these T lymphocytes was characterized and compared with that of TILs. In addition, the immune infiltration in vivo of ocular melanoma lesions was analyzed. An efficient in vitro MLTC expansion of melanoma reactive T cells was achieved from all PBMC’s samples obtained in 7 cutaneous and ocular metastatic melanoma patients. Large numbers of melanoma-specific T cells could be obtained when the REP protocol was applied to these MLTCs. Most MLTCs were enriched in non-terminally differentiated TEM cells homogeneously expressing co-stimulatory molecules (e.g., NKG2D, CD28, CD134, CD137). A similar pattern of anti-tumor activity, in association with a more variable expression of co-stimulatory molecules, was detected on short-term in vitro cultured TILs isolated from the same patients. In these ocular melanoma patients, we observed an immune infiltrate with suppressive characteristics and a low rate of ex vivo growing TILs (28.5% of our cases). Our MLTC protocol overcomes this limitation, allowing the isolation of T lymphocytes with effector functions even in these patients. Thus, anti-tumor circulating PBMC-derived T cells could be efficiently isolated from melanoma patients by our novel ex vivo enrichment protocol. This protocol appears suitable for ACT studies of cutaneous and ocular melanoma patients.

Giorgio Parmiani and Cristina Maccalli equally contributed to this study.