Blood. 2023 Sep 8:blood.2023020400. doi: 10.1182/blood.2023020400. Online ahead of print
Aberrant skipping of coding exons in CD19 and CD22 compromises responses to immunotherapy for B-cell malignancies. Here, we show that the MS4A1 gene encoding human CD20 also produces several mRNA isoforms with distinct 5' untranslated regions (5'-UTR). Four variants (V1-4) were detectable by RNA-seq in distinct stages of normal B-cell differentiation and B-lymphoid malignancies, with V1 and V3 being the most abundant by far. During B-cell activation and Epstein-Barr virus infection, redirection of splicing from V1 to V3 coincided with increased CD20 positivity. Similarly, in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma only V3, but not V1, correlated with CD20 protein levels, suggesting that V1 might be translation-deficient. Indeed, the longer V1 isoform was found to contain upstream open reading frames (uORFs) and a stem-loop structure, which cooperatively inhibited polysome recruitment. By modulating CD20 isoforms with splice-switching Morpholino oligomers, we enhanced CD20 expression and anti-CD20 antibody rituximab-mediated cytotoxicity in a panel of B-cell lines. Furthermore, reconstitution of CD20-knockout cells with V3 mRNA led to the recovery of CD20 positivity, while V1-reconstituted cells had undetectable levels of CD20 protein. Surprisingly, in vitro CD20-directed CAR T cells were able to kill both V3- and V1-expressing cells, but the bispecific T cell engager mosunetuzumab was only effective against V3-expressing cells. To determine whether CD20 splicing is involved in immunotherapy resistance, we performed RNA-seq on four post-mosunetuzumab follicular lymphoma relapses and discovered that in two of them downregulation of CD20 was accompanied by the V3-to-V1 shift. Thus, splicing-mediated mechanisms of epitope loss extend to CD20-directed immunotherapies.
Organism or Cell Type:
cell culture: OCI-Ly8, Raji, and MEC-1