Engineering anticancer T cells for extended functional longevity

Graham Pawelec, Erminia Mariani, Julie McLeod, Arie Ben-Yehuda, Tamas Fülöp, Martin Aringer, Yvonne Barnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Like other somatic cells, human T lymphocytes have a finite replicative capacity in vitro, and, by implication and consistent with the limited data available, in vivo as well. An accumulation of dysfunctional T cells may be detrimental under conditions of chronic antigenic stress (chronic infection, cancer, autoimmunitty). Using T cells from young donors to model the process of T cell clonal expansion in vitro under these conditions reveals age-associated increasing levels of oxidative DNA damage and microsatellite instability (MSI), coupled with decreasing DNA repair capacity, telomerase induction and telomere length, decreased levels of expression of the T cell costimulator CD28 and consequently reduced secretion of the T cell growth factor interleukin-2 (IL-2). However, data from similar experiments using T cell clones (TCCs) derived from extremely healthy very elderly donors ("successfully aged") indicate that DNA repair is better maintained, MSI less prevalent, and (already short) telomere lengths are maintained. Nonetheless, oxidative DNA damage is seen to the same extent, and clonal longevity is also similar in these clones. DNA damage levels are reduced by culture in 5% oxygen, but longevity is not improved. This may be because of the requirement for intermittent reactivation via receptor pathways dependent on free radical production in T cells. These recent findings from our international immunosenescence research consortium suggest that strategies other than telomere maintenance, better protection against free radicals, or improved DNA repair will be required for functional longevity extension of human TCCs. To obtain sufficient cells for adoptive immunotherapy of cancer, alternative avenues need exploration; currently, these include enforced expression of certain heat shock proteins and proteasome components, and interference with the expression of negative regulatory receptors expressed by T cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-185
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Antigenic stress
  • Cell culture longevity
  • Costimulation
  • DNA damage
  • DNA repair
  • Oxidative stress
  • T cell clones
  • Telomere length

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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