Flow cytometry assessment of residual melanoma cells in tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte cultures


Immunotherapy Research Laboratory, Immunotherapy Program, Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, Transplant Research Laboratory


Adoptive transfer of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) is in development for the treatment of metastatic melanoma. In phase II clinical trials, patients with metastatic melanoma that received TIL after preconditioning had a 50-70% clinical response rate. The current approach to generate TIL is to culture melanoma enzyme digests in the presence of IL-2 for a 10- to 20-day period followed by 2 weeks of rapid expansion (REP). Prior to administration, cell therapies are characterized and tested for purity. TIL are characterized by CD3 surface marker expression, and purity is assessed by the amount of tumor remaining in culture. Evaluating TIL purity has traditionally been done by immunohistochemistry, which is often considered semiquantitative. To generate a quantitative assay, we used multiparameter flow cytometry to evaluate the presence of viable tumor cells by staining TIL populations with a viability dye and an antibody cocktail that detects intracellular tumor-antigens gp100, Mart-1, tyrosinase, S100, and surface tumor-antigen melanoma chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan (MCSP), and CD3 on T cells. Tumors were identified by gating on the viable CD3(-) population. Antigens in tumors were initially optimized with individual antibodies using both immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry. When eight different tumor cell lines were spiked into an activated T cell culture, flow cytometry was able to distinguish lymphocytes from tumors in all samples tested. Most importantly, the assay was able to detect melanoma cells in all enzyme digests (9/9) from patient samples. After IL-2-induced TIL expansion, there was a significant decrease in tumor cells; tumor cells were detected in only 2 of 12 samples. In eight IL-2-induced TIL samples that were further expanded in REP, no tumor cells were detected. We have demonstrated that flow cytometry is an alternative to immunohistochemistry for defining the purity of a TIL population.

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