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Saad S. Kenderian, Michelle Cox, Reona Sakemura, Fabrice Lucien-Matteoni, Nan Yang, Sutapa Sinha, Cynthia Forsman, Mehrdad Hefazi, Kendall Schick, Justin Boysen, Sameer A. Parikh and Neil E. Kay

Background: Unprecedented clinical outcomes were reported after CD19 chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CART19) therapy. However, the complete response rate in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is much lower, at approximately 20%–30%. Several immune defects have been identified in CLL that result from the complex interaction between CLL cells and the microenvironment. This leukemic microenvironment is rich with extracellular vesicles (EVs) secreted by B-CLL cells. Here, we aimed to investigate the role of EVs play in the diminished CART response seen in some CLL patients. Methods: EVs were isolated from peripheral blood of 16 patients with untreated CLL at different Rai stages and risk profile by FISH. Cytometry was used to determine size, number of particles per μl, and CD19 expression. To investigate the impact of EVs on CAR T-cell functions, CART19 cells were stimulated with either CLL B cells or the CD19-positive cell line JEKO and different effector functions were analyzed. Results: Two patterns of EVs in CLL patients were identified; a single versus 2 distinct EV populations, characterized by size (small [EVssmall] and large [EVslarge], ). In 25% of patients, EVs were CD19 positive (EVCD19+). CD19 positivity was detected only in patients with the EVslarge (). The EVs concentration, CD19 expression (EVsCD19+ vs EVsCD19-), or the size (EVssmall vs EVslarge) did not correlate with disease stage (early vs advanced Rai stage) or risk profile of CLL (low vs high risk). To investigate our hypothesis that EVs could modulate CART19 function, CART19 cell effector functions were examined in the presence of EVsCD19+, EVsCD19-, EVssmall, or EVslarge. EVs alone were insufficient to stimulate CART19 cells. However when CART19 cells were stimulated with the CD19-positive cell line JEKO, their effector functions were reduced only in the presence of EVsCD19+ but not EVsCD19-. This included a significant reduction in CART-specific killing () and a reduction in cytokine production. The impairment of CART cell functions was independent of the size of EVs, ie, there was no impairment of CART functions with large or small size EVCD19- in co-culture. Conclusion: We identify CD19-positive large size EVs from patients with CLL and demonstrate that these EVs play a role in the leukemic microenvironment by reducing CAR T-cell activity. Studies are ongoing to define the mechanism(s).