Human lymphocytes mobilized with exercise have an anti-tumor transcriptomic profile and exert enhanced graft-versus-leukemia effects in xenogeneic mice

Helena Batatinha, Douglass M. Diak, Grace M. Niemiro, Forrest L. Baker, Kyle A. Smith, Tiffany M. Zúñiga, Preteesh L. Mylabathula, Michael D. Seckeler, Branden Lau, Emily C. LaVoy, Michael P. Gustafson, Emmanuel Katsanis, Richard J. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Every bout of exercise mobilizes and redistributes large numbers of effector lymphocytes with a cytotoxic and tissue migration phenotype. The frequent redistribution of these cells is purported to increase immune surveillance and play a mechanistic role in reducing cancer risk and slowing tumor progression in physically active cancer survivors. Our aim was to provide the first detailed single cell transcriptomic analysis of exercise-mobilized lymphocytes and test their effectiveness as a donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI) in xenogeneic mice engrafted with human leukemia. Methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were collected from healthy volunteers at rest and at the end of an acute bout of cycling exercise. Flow cytometry and single-cell RNA sequencing was performed to identify phenotypic and transcriptomic differences between resting and exercise-mobilized cells using a targeted gene expression panel curated for human immunology. PBMCs were injected into the tail vein of xenogeneic NSG-IL-15 mice and subsequently challenged with a luciferase tagged chronic myelogenous leukemia cell line (K562). Tumor growth (bioluminescence) and xenogeneic graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) were monitored bi-weekly for 40-days. Results: Exercise preferentially mobilized NK-cell, CD8+ T-cell and monocyte subtypes with a differentiated and effector phenotype, without significantly mobilizing CD4+ regulatory T-cells. Mobilized effector lymphocytes, particularly effector-memory CD8+ T-cells and NK-cells, displayed differentially expressed genes and enriched gene sets associated with anti-tumor activity, including cytotoxicity, migration/chemotaxis, antigen binding, cytokine responsiveness and alloreactivity (e.g. graft-versus-host/leukemia). Mice receiving exercise-mobilized PBMCs had lower tumor burden and higher overall survival (4.14E+08 photons/s and 47%, respectively) at day 40 compared to mice receiving resting PBMCs (12.1E+08 photons/s and 22%, respectively) from the same donors (p<0.05). Human immune cell engraftment was similar for resting and exercise-mobilized DLI. However, when compared to non-tumor bearing mice, K562 increased the expansion of NK-cell and CD3+/CD4-/CD8- T-cells in mice receiving exercise-mobilized but not resting lymphocytes, 1-2 weeks after DLI. No differences in GvHD or GvHD-free survival was observed between groups either with or without K562 challenge. Conclusion: Exercise in humans mobilizes effector lymphocytes with an anti-tumor transcriptomic profile and their use as DLI extends survival and enhances the graft-versus-leukemia (GvL) effect without exacerbating GvHD in human leukemia bearing xenogeneic mice. Exercise may serve as an effective and economical adjuvant to increase the GvL effects of allogeneic cell therapies without intensifying GvHD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1067369
JournalFrontiers in immunology
StatePublished - 2023


  • NSG mice
  • adoptive cell therapy
  • cancer
  • donor lymphocyte infusions
  • exercise immunology
  • graft-versus-host disease
  • immunotherapy
  • single cell transcriptomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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