Sodium chloride in the tumor microenvironment enhances T-cell metabolic fitness and cytotoxicity.
Adoptive T-cell therapy has become a powerful weapon for cancer treatment. The efficacy of antitumor immunity is associated with the metabolic state of cytotoxic T cells, which is highly sensitive to the tumor microenvironment. It is therefore of considerable interest to bypass immunosuppressive signals in the tumor microenvironment and to identify factors that augment cytotoxic effector functions and ultimately tumor killing. Whether ionic signals serve as aberrant immune signals and influence the adaptive human antitumor immune response is still largely unexplored. We therefore investigated the effect of sodium on the phenotype, function and metabolic regulation of human CD8+ T cells using transcriptomic, metabolomic, high-dimensional flow cytometric and functional assays. We demonstrate a significant enrichment of sodium in solid tumors from patients with breast cancer, which leaves a transcriptomic imprint on intratumoral immune cells. Sodium chloride (NaCl) enhanced the activation state and effector functions of human CD8+ memory T cells. These functional alterations were associated with enhanced metabolic fitness, particularly increases in glycolysis, oxidative phosphorylation and overall nutrient uptake. These NaCl-induced effects translated into increased tumor cell killing in vitro and in a tumor mouse model in vivo. We therefore propose NaCl as a positive regulator of acute antitumor immunity that could be harnessed for ex vivo conditioning of adoptively transferred T cells, such as CAR T-cells.