Purpose: We have previously reported that many types of tumors can induce changes in human T cells that lead to the acquisition of suppressive function and phenotypic alterations resembling those found in senescent T cells. In the present study, we find a role for interleukin 7 (IL-7) in protecting T cells from these changes and further define involved signaling pathways. Experimental Design: We evaluated the ability of IL-7 treatment to prevent the gain of suppressive function and phenotypic alterations in human T cells after a short coculture with tumor cells in vitro. We then used inhibitors of components of the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT pathway and short interfering RNA knockdown of Mcl-1 and Bim to evaluate the role of these signaling pathways in IL-7 protection. Results: We found that IL-7 inhibits CD27/CD28 loss and maintains proliferative capacity, IL-2 production, and reduced suppressive function. The protective ability of IL-7 depended on activation of the PI3K/AKT pathway, which inhibited activation of glycogen synthase kinase 3β, which, in turn, prevented the phosphorylation and loss of Mcl-1. We further showed a key role for Mcl-1 in that its knockdown or inhibition abrogated the effects of IL-7. In addition, knockdown of the Mcl-1 binding partner and proapoptotic protein Bim protected T cells from these dysfunctional alterations. Conclusion: These observations confirm the role for Bcl-2 family members in cytokine signaling and suggest that IL-7 treatment in combination with other immunotherapies could lead to new clinical strategies to maintain normal T-cell function and reduce tumor-induced generation of dysfunctional and suppressor T cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research