Journal of Experimental Medicine
Biologics to TNF family receptors are prime candidates for therapy of immune disease. Whereas recent studies have highlighted a requirement for Fc receptors in enabling the activity of CD40, TRAILR, and GITR when engaged by antibodies, other TNFR molecules may be controlled by additional mechanisms. Antibodies to 4-1BB (CD137) are currently in clinical trials and can both augment immunity in cancer and promote regulatory T cells that inhibit autoimmune disease. We found that the action of agonist anti-4-1BB in suppressing autoimmune and allergic inflammation was completely dependent on Galectin-9 (Gal-9). Gal-9 directly bound to 4-1BB, in a site distinct from the binding site of antibodies and the natural ligand of 4-1BB, and Gal-9 facilitated 4-1BB aggregation, signaling, and functional activity in T cells, dendritic cells, and natural killer cells. Conservation of the Gal-9 interaction in humans has important implications for effective clinical targeting of 4-1BB and possibly other TNFR superfamily molecules.