T cell dysfunction (also called exhaustion) arises in chronic disease states such as cancer and chronic viral infections. New treatments that aim to reverse T cell dysfunction, such as checkpoint inhibitors, have been very effective, but only for certain patients and certain tumor types. To better understand the molecular underpinnings of T cell dysfunction, the research team analyzed tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), using single-cell as well as cell-population analysis techniques. They identified several pathways as well as a transcription factor, Gata-3, that contribute to T cell dysfunction, and used CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to further demonstrate the role of Gata-3 in T cell dysfunction.
“Our work opens up new avenues for specifically targeting the dysfunctional T cell state while leaving the programs that drive T cell activation intact,” said Ana C. Anderson, PhD, an associate scientist at BWH.