Adjunct Therapy with T Regulatory Cells Decreases Inflammation and Preserves the Anti-Tumor Activity of CAR T Cells

Ke Zeng, Meixian Huang, Mi Ae Lyu, Joseph D. Khoury, Sairah Ahmed, Krina K. Patel, Boro Dropulić, Jane Reese-Koc, Paolo F. Caimi, Tara Sadeghi, Marcos de Lima, Christopher R. Flowers, Simrit Parmar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With greater accessibility and an increased number of patients being treated with CAR T cell therapy, real-world toxicity continues to remain a significant challenge to its widespread adoption. We have previously shown that allogeneic umbilical cord blood-derived (UCB) regulatory T cells (Tregs) can resolve inflammation and treat acute and immune-mediated lung injuries. Allogeneic, cryopreserved UCB Tregs have shown a clinical benefit in patients suffering from COVID-19 acute respiratory distress syndrome. The unique properties of UCB Treg cells include a lack of plasticity under inflammatory micro-environments, no requirement for HLA matching, a long shelf life of cryopreserved cells, and immediate product availability, which makes them attractive for treating acute inflammatory syndromes. Therefore, we hypothesized that adjunct therapy with UCB Tregs may resolve the undesirable inflammation responsible for CAR T cell therapy-associated toxicity. In in vitro analysis, no interference from the addition of UCB Tregs was observed on CD19 CAR T cells’ ability to kill CD19 Raji cells at different CAR T: Raji cell ratios of 8:1 (80.4% vs. 81.5%); 4:1 (62.0% vs. 66.2%); 2:1 (50.1% vs. 54.7%); and 1:1 (35.4% vs. 44.1%). In the xenogeneic B-cell lymphoma model, multiple injections of UCB Tregs were administered 3 days after CD19 CAR T cell injection, and no detrimental effect of add-on Tregs was noted on the circulating CD8+ T effector cells. The distribution of CAR T cells in multiple organs remained unaffected by the addition of the UCB Tregs. Specifically, no difference in the overall tumor burden was detected between the UCB Treg + CAR T vs. CAR T alone recipients. No tumor was detected in the liver or bone marrow in CAR T cells + UCB Tregs recipients, with a notable corresponding decrease in multiple circulating inflammatory cytokines when compared to CART alone recipients. Here we show the proof of concept for adjunct therapy with UCB Tregs to mitigate the hyper-inflammatory state induced by CAR T cells without any interference in their on-target anti-tumor activity. Administration of UCB Tregs after CAR T cells allows sufficient time for their synapse formation with tumor cells and exerts cytotoxicity, such that the UCB Tregs are diverted to interact with the antigen-presenting cells at the site of inflammation. Such a differential distribution of cells would allow for a two-pronged strategy of a UCB Treg “cooling blanket” effect and lay the groundwork for clinical study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1880
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • CAR T cells
  • CRS
  • allogeneic
  • lymphoma
  • regulatory T cells
  • umbilical cord blood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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