Bringing T cell and chimeric antigen receptor signalling landscapes to light using a novel microscopy technique

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Copyright: Farrell, Megan
T cells are critical in the body's defence against viruses and cancerous cells. They specifically recognise viral or tumour antigens presented on antigen presenting cells using their T cell receptor (TCR). Antigen binding triggers the TCR, transmitting signal intracellularly and resulting in the recruitment of a plethora of signalling proteins to the membrane. The signal is transmitted by post-translational modifications, such as the phosphorylation of tyrosine residues in intracellular tails of receptors, resulting in the recruitment of signalling proteins via their interaction domains. The spatial organisation of signalling proteins at the membrane determines the effector response of the T cell and is therefore critical for understanding the complex array of T cell responses. In this thesis, I develop a novel microscopy technique that reports on the nanoscale locations of signalling proteins and their binding kinetics to receptors at the T cell membrane. This technique utilizes the SH2 interaction domains of various signalling proteins which selectively and transiently bind to phosphorylated tyrosines on receptors. This transient binding results in the stochastic blinking necessary for super-resolution microscopy. Using this technique, termed protein point accumulation in nanoscale topography (pPAINT), I investigate the binding of multiple signalling proteins, achieving multiplexed imaging both simultaneously and sequentially with a combined microfluidic and microscopy approach. In the second half of this thesis, I apply pPAINT to study how chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) signal in T cells. In CAR-T therapy, patient cytotoxic T cells are isolated and transduced with a CAR construct that recognises tumour antigens, and are then reintroduced into the patient where they find and eliminate cells expressing the CAR target antigen. CAR constructs are made up of an antigen recognition domain fused to various intracellular signalling motifs from the TCR complex and co-stimulatory receptors, such as CD28, which are crucial for T cell activation. The first-generation of CARs contained an intracellular tail of the TCR, the CD3ζ chain, but it has been the second-generation CARs, with the addition of co-stimulatory receptor signalling domains, that have proven clinically effective. However, CAR therapy is not successful in all patients; limitations reducing their efficacy include inefficient recognition of low antigen densities, finite persistence in the body and off-target side effects in patients. It follows that a detailed knowledge and understanding of CAR activation and signalling is needed to optimise CAR design. In this thesis I use pPAINT to gain a unique perspective on how different generations of CARs signal upon activation, identifying key similarities and differences to signalling from the standard TCR. Signalling was investigated in CAR-T cells generated in a similar way to clinically used CAR-T therapies. In doing so, unique signalling mechanisms utilized by CARs were identified that will be valuable for the development of more effective chimeric antigen receptors. The results demonstrate that although CARs utilise the signalling domains of the TCR and co-stimulatory receptors, the pattern of adaptor protein recruitment is different from that of T cells stimulated through the TCR and co- stimulatory receptors. Specifically, I found that whilst hubs of signalling proteins spatially diverged from clusters of activated TCR, they were instead closely colocalised with activated CARs. The incorporation of the CD28 coreceptor in CAR design improves signalling protein recruitment patterns, however, the patterns of protein binding were still vastly different to co-stimulated T cells. Collectively, the results indicate that CARs utilize a signalling pathway unique to that of costimulated T cells, in a mechanism that may have ramifications in the functional responses exhibited by cells used in CAR-T therapy.
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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