T cell exhaustion is a state of T cell dysfunction associated with expression of programmed death 1 (PD-1). Exhausted CD8+ T cells are maintained by self-renewing stem-like T cells that provide differentiated TIM3+ cells, a part of which possesses effector-like properties. PD-1–targeted therapies enhance T cell response by promoting differentiation of stem-like T cells toward TIM3+ cells, but the role of mTOR during T cell exhaustion remains elusive. Here, we showed that mTOR inhibition has distinct outcomes during the beginning of and after the establishment of chronic viral infection. Blocking mTOR during the T cell expansion phase enhanced the T cell response by causing accumulation of stem-like T cells, leading to improved efficacy of PD-1 immunotherapy; whereas, after exhaustion progressed, mTOR inhibition caused immunosuppression, characterized by decreased TIM3+ cells and increased viral load with minimal changes in stem-like T cells. Mechanistically, a cell-intrinsic mTOR signal was vital for differentiation of stem-like T cells into the TIM3+ state in the early and late phases of chronic infection as well as during PD-1 immunotherapy. Thus, PD-1 blockade worked after cessation of mTOR inhibition, but simultaneous treatment failed to induce functional TIM3+ cells, reducing efficacy of PD-1 immunotherapy. Our data demonstrate that mTOR regulates T cell exhaustion and have important implications for combination cancer therapies with PD-1 blockade.


Satomi Ando, Charles M. Perkins, Yamato Sajiki, Chase Chastain, Rajesh M. Valanparambil, Andreas Wieland, William H. Hudson, Masao Hashimoto, Suresh S. Ramalingam, Gordon J. Freeman, Rafi Ahmed, Koichi Araki


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