Blümel E, et al. Oncoimmunology 2020.
Staphylococcus aureus and its toxins have been linked to disease progression and mortality in advanced stages of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL). CD8+ T cells play a crucial role in anti-cancer responses and high CD8+ T cell numbers in tumor lesions are associated with a favorable prognosis in CTCL. Here, we show that CD8+ T cells from both healthy donors and Sézary syndrome patients are highly susceptible to cell death induced by Staphylococcal alpha-toxin, whereas malignant T cells are not. Importantly, alpha-toxin almost completely blocks cytotoxic killing of CTCL tumor cells by peptide-specific CD8+ T cells, leading to their escape from induced cell death and continued proliferation. These findings suggest that alpha-toxin may favor the persistence of malignant CTCL cells in vivo by inhibiting CD8+ T cell cytotoxicity. Thus, we propose a novel mechanism by which colonization with Staphylococcus aureus may contribute to cancer immune evasion and disease progression in CTCL.