Discriminatory Power of Combinatorial Antigen Recognition in Cancer T Cell Therapies

Ruth Dannenfelser, Gregory M. Allen, Benjamin VanderSluis, Ashley K. Koegel, Sarah Levinson, Sierra R. Stark, Vicky Yao, Alicja Tadych, Olga G. Troyanskaya, Wendell A. Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Precise discrimination of tumor from normal tissues remains a major roadblock for therapeutic efficacy of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells. Here, we perform a comprehensive in silico screen to identify multi-antigen signatures that improve tumor discrimination by CAR T cells engineered to integrate multiple antigen inputs via Boolean logic, e.g., AND and NOT. We screen >2.5 million dual antigens and ∼60 million triple antigens across 33 tumor types and 34 normal tissues. We find that dual antigens significantly outperform the best single clinically investigated CAR targets and confirm key predictions experimentally. Further, we identify antigen triplets that are predicted to show close to ideal tumor-versus-normal tissue discrimination for several tumor types. This work demonstrates the potential of 2- to 3-antigen Boolean logic gates for improving tumor discrimination by CAR T cell therapies. Our predictions are available on an interactive web server resource (antigen.princeton.edu). The application of CAR T cells to solid tumors is limited by the difficulty in identifying single target antigens that adequately discriminate between tumor and normal tissue to avoid toxicity. We leverage large-scale RNA-seq databases from tumor and normal tissues to evaluate the discriminatory power of single antigens and antigen combinations. Most single antigens, including those currently under investigation as CAR targets in solid tumors, perform poorly. The addition of a second or third antigen using AND or NOT gating can significantly improve CAR T cell performance. We construct and test a pair of potential AND-gated T cells for renal cell carcinoma. A full database of all predicted high-performing antigen pairs and triplets is made available in an associated web server (antigen.princeton.edu).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-228.e5
JournalCell Systems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 23 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Cell Biology
  • Histology


  • AND gate
  • CAR T cell
  • NOT gate
  • T cell therapeutics
  • combinatorial antigen recognition
  • tumor antigens
  • tumor-versus-normal discrimination


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