Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a major complication of allogeneic bone marrow transplantation. One strategy to treat GVHD is to equip donor T cells with a conditional suicide mechanism that can be triggered when GVHD occurs. The herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-tk)/ganciclovir system used clinically has several limitations, including immunogenicity and cell cycle dependence. An alternative switch based on chemically inducible apoptosis was designed and evaluated. A chimeric human protein was expressed comprising an extracellular marker (ΔLNGFR), the Fas intracellular domain, and 2 copies of an FK506-binding protein (FKBP). Primary human T lymphocytes retrovirally transduced with this construct could be purified to homogeneity using immunomagnetic beads. Genetic integrity of the construct was ensured by redesigning repetitive sequences. Transduced T cells behaved indistinguishably from untransduced cells, retaining the ability to mount a specific antiallogeneic immune response. However, they rapidly underwent apoptosis with the addition of subnanomolar concentrations of AP1903, a bivalent "dimerizer" drug that binds FKBP and induces Fas cross-linking. A single 2-hour treatment eliminated approximately 80% of T cells, and multiple exposures induced further apoptosis. T cells were eliminated regardless of their proliferation state, suggesting that the AP1903/Fas system, which contains only human components, is a promising alternative to HSV-tk for treating GVHD.
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