T cell stemness and dysfunction in tumors are triggered by a common mechanism.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

A paradox of tumor immunology is that tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are dysfunctional in situ, yet are capable of stem cell-like behavior including self-renewal, expansion, and multipotency, resulting in the eradication of large metastatic tumors. We find that the overabundance of potassium in the tumor microenvironment underlies this dichotomy, triggering suppression of T cell effector function while preserving stemness. High levels of extracellular potassium constrain T cell effector programs by limiting nutrient uptake, thereby inducing autophagy and reduction of histone acetylation at effector and exhaustion loci, which in turn produces CD8+ T cells with improved in vivo persistence, multipotency, and tumor clearance. This mechanistic knowledge advances our understanding of T cell dysfunction and may lead to novel approaches that enable the development of enhanced T cell strategies for cancer immunotherapy.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Vodnala, SK; Eil, R; Kishton, RJ; Sukumar, M; Yamamoto, TN; Ha, N-H; Lee, P-H; Shin, M; Patel, SJ; Yu, Z; Palmer, DC; Kruhlak, MJ; Liu, X; Locasale, JW; Huang, J; Roychoudhuri, R; Finkel, T; Klebanoff, CA; Restifo, NP

Published Date

  • March 29, 2019

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 363 / 6434

PubMed ID

  • 30923193

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8194369

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1095-9203

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1126/science.aau0135


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States