Vardhana SA, Hwee MA, Berisa M, Wells DK, Yost KE, King B, Smith M, Herrera PS, Chang HY, Satpathy AT, van den Brink MRM, Cross JR, Thompson CB.
Nature Immunology, 1 September 2020

The majority of tumor-infiltrating T cells exhibit a terminally exhausted phenotype, marked by a loss of self-renewal capacity. How repetitive antigenic stimulation impairs T cell self-renewal remains poorly defined. Here, we show that persistent antigenic stimulation impaired ADP-coupled oxidative phosphorylation. The resultant bioenergetic compromise blocked proliferation by limiting nucleotide triphosphate synthesis. Inhibition of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation in activated T cells was sufficient to suppress proliferation and upregulate genes linked to T cell exhaustion. Conversely, prevention of mitochondrial oxidative stress during chronic T cell stimulation allowed sustained T cell proliferation and induced genes associated with stem-like progenitor T cells. As a result, antioxidant treatment enhanced the anti-tumor efficacy of chronically stimulated T cells. These data reveal that loss of ATP production through oxidative phosphorylation limits T cell proliferation and effector function during chronic antigenic stimulation. Furthermore, treatments that maintain redox balance promote T cell self-renewal and enhance anti-tumor immunity.