To delineate the in vivo role of different costimulatory signals in activating and expanding highly functional virus-specific cytotoxic CD8+ T cells, we designed synTacs, infusible biologics that recapitulate antigen-specific T cell activation signals delivered by antigen-presenting cells. We constructed synTacs consisting of dimeric Fc-domain scaffolds linking CD28- or 4-1BB-specific ligands to HLA-A2 MHC molecules covalently tethered to HIV- or CMV-derived peptides. Treatment of HIV-infected donor PBMCs with synTacs bearing HIV- or CMV-derived peptides induced vigorous and selective ex vivo expansion of highly functional HIV- and/or CMV-specific CD8+ T cells, respectively, with potent antiviral activities. Intravenous injection of HIV- or CMV-specific synTacs into immunodeficient mice intrasplenically engrafted with donor PBMCs markedly and selectively expanded HIV-specific (32-fold) or CMV-specific (46-fold) human CD8+ T cells populating their spleens. Notably, these expanded HIV- or CMV-specific CD8+ T cells directed potent in vivo suppression of HIV or CMV infections in the humanized mice, providing strong rationale for consideration of synTac-based approaches as a therapeutic strategy to cure HIV and treat CMV and other viral infections. The synTac platform flexibility supports facile delineation of in vivo effects of different costimulatory signals on patient-derived virus-specific CD8+ T cells, enabling optimization of individualized therapies, including HIV cure strategies.
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