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While conventional chemotherapy is effective at eliminating the bulk of leukemic cells, chemotherapy resistance in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a prevalent problem that hinders conventional therapies and contributes to disease relapse, and ultimately patient death. We have recently shown that allogeneic double negative T cells (DNTs) are able to target the majority of primary AML blasts in vitro and in patient-derived xenograft models. However, some primary AML blast samples are resistant to DNT cell therapy. Given the differences in the modes of action of DNTs and chemotherapy, we hypothesize that DNT therapy can be used in combination with conventional chemotherapy to further improve their anti-leukemic effects and to target chemotherapy-resistant disease.
Drug titration assays and flow-based cytotoxicity assays using ex vivo expanded allogeneic DNTs were performed on multiple AML cell lines to identify therapy-resistance. Primary AML samples were also tested to validate our in vitro findings. Further, a xenograft model was employed to demonstrate the feasibility of combining conventional chemotherapy and adoptive DNT therapy to target therapy-resistant AML. Lastly, blocking assays with neutralizing antibodies were employed to determine the mechanism by which chemotherapy increases the susceptibility of AML to DNT-mediated cytotoxicity.
Here, we demonstrate that KG1a, a stem-like AML cell line that is resistant to DNTs and chemotherapy, and chemotherapy-resistant primary AML samples both became more susceptible to DNT-mediated cytotoxicity in vitro following pre-treatment with daunorubicin. Moreover, chemotherapy treatment followed by adoptive DNT cell therapy significantly decreased bone marrow engraftment of KG1a in a xenograft model. Mechanistically, daunorubicin increased the expression of NKG2D and DNAM-1 ligands on KG1a; blocking of these pathways attenuated DNT-mediated cytotoxicity.
Our results demonstrate the feasibility and benefit of using DNTs as an immunotherapy after the administration of conventional chemotherapy.