Allogeneic stem cell transplantation (allo-SCT) can cure hematological malignancies by inducing alloreactive T cell responses targeting minor histocompatibility antigens (MiHA) expressed on malignant cells. Despite induction of robust MiHA-specific T cell responses and long-term persistence of alloreactive memory T cells specific for the tumor, often these T cells fail to respond efficiently to tumor relapse. Previously, we demonstrated the involvement of the coinhibitory receptor programmed death-1 (PD-1) in suppressing MiHA-specific CD8(+) T cell immunity. In this study, we investigated whether B and T lymphocyte attenuator (BTLA) plays a similar role in functional impairment of MiHA-specific T cells after allo-SCT. In addition to PD-1, we observed higher BTLA expression on MiHA-specific CD8(+) T cells compared with that of the total population of CD8(+) effector-memory T cells. In addition, BTLA's ligand, herpes virus entry mediator (HVEM), was found constitutively expressed by myeloid leukemia, B cell lymphoma, and multiple myeloma cells. Interference with the BTLA-HVEM pathway, using a BTLA blocking Ab, augmented proliferation of BTLA(+)PD-1(+) MiHA-specific CD8(+) T cells by HVEM-expressing dendritic cells. Notably, we demonstrated that blocking of BTLA or PD-1 enhanced ex vivo proliferation of MiHA-specific CD8(+) T cells in respectively 7 and 9 of 11 allo-SCT patients. Notably, in 3 of 11 patients, the effect of BTLA blockade was more prominent than that of PD-1 blockade. Furthermore, these expanded MiHA-specific CD8(+) T cells competently produced effector cytokines and degranulated upon Ag reencounter. Together, these results demonstrate that BTLA-HVEM interactions impair MiHA-specific T cell functionality, providing a rationale for interfering with BTLA signaling in post-stem cell transplantation therapies
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