Timothy N. Bullock


  • PhD, Thomas Jefferson University

Primary Appointment

  • Associate Professor, Pathology


Research Interest(s)

Pathways to enhance T cell function in tumors.

Research Description

The focus of our work is on the use of costimulatory pathways, particularly the CD70-CD27 TNF-superfamily members, to promote immunotherapeutic T cell responses against melanoma and other malignancies, and as a platform for vaccine delivery.

DC are extremely potent antigen presenting cells (APC) that express MHC class I and class II molecules and an array of costimulatory molecules that are required for the activation of naïve T cells. Recent studies have demonstrated that many patients make immune responses against their tumors, though they usually ultimately fail to control tumor outgrowth. While multiple reasons exist for the loss of immune control of tumors, one that we are focusing on is the lack of costimulation in the tumor microenvironment leads to dysfunctional T cell responses. Thus, we hope to understand how DC regulation of T cell responses can be parlayed into more effective immunostimulatory approaches.

Extensive investigations have identified many of the proteins that are the targets of anti-tumor immune responses, and further defined the MHC class I and MHC class II-restricted peptides derived from tumor antigens that are presented to cytotoxic CD8+- and helper CD4+ T cells respectively. As we now understand that many tumors can auto-vaccinate (i.e. contain many mutations that can be sensed by T cells), approaches that increase DC function, or directly stimulate T cells, can enhance anti-tumor T cell responses.

As a consequence of our interest in how CD4+ T cells influence CD8+ T cell responses to tumor (Hwang 2007), our lab has also shown that one of the essential consequences of activating DC is the upregulation of the TNF-superfamily member, CD70 (Bullock, 2005). We have found that the expression of CD70 on DC is not only a biomarker of potently activated DC, but the costimulation rendered by CD70, via its receptor CD27 (which is expressed on most naïve T and B cells, and a subset of NK cells) strongly influences both CD8+ T cell and CD4+ T cell responses to vaccines. We have worked on optimizing the induction of CD70 expression by activated CD4+ T cells (Van Deusen, 2009); understanding how CD70-CD27 costimulation regulates the ability of CD8+ T cells to form effector and memory CD8+ T cells (Dong, 2012); and have led studies revealing how CD27 stimulation can be used to augment anti-tumor immune responses (Roberts, 2010). Current projects in the lab involve:

1. Defining the mechanism by which CD27 stimulation promotes the generation of CD8+ T cell responses to peptide/protein immunization.

These studies encompass the basic biology of how CD27 stimulation promotes the expression of the IL-7R and concomitantly protects CD8+ T cells from IL-12-induced AICD. Practical applications include the use of CD27 stimulation for next-generation vaccines for cancer (in clinical trials at UVA) and for infectious disease platforms. We are currently also understanding the transcriptional networks that are regulated by CD70-CD27 during T cell activation and differentiation.

2. Defining how to utilize CD70/CD27-mediated costimulation to enhance immunological control of tumor.

These studies are focused on optimizing the induction of CD70 expression in the tumor microenvironment (TME) and understanding the alterations in immune cell (CD8+ T cell; CD4+ T cell and NK cell) function in the tumor after CD27 stimulation. These studies have taken us down two complimentary pathways. First, we have identified transcriptional alterations within tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL), primarily regulated by the transcriptional repressor, BLIMP-1. We are studying how BLIMP-1 is induced within TIL, and what functions are regulated by BLIMP-1. Second, CD27 stimulation augments the functional status of T cells in tumors; recent data suggests that this is achieved by promoting the metabolic activity of TIL. Therefore, we are now embarked on defining how the metabolic state of TIL influences their function, and what metabolic states are needed to optimize TIL activity within tumors.

As our lab is committed to multi-disciplinary, team-based research, we interact with many partner labs at UVA. Examples of this include:

1.Using phage-display libraries to define proteomic alterations that are exhibited by tumor-infiltrated lymphocytes with the intent of identifying novel, targetable inhibitory molecules (Kelly lab, Biomedical Engineering)

2.The use of focused-ultrasound (FUS) to promote immune activity within the TME (Price lab, Biomedical Engineering);

3. The co-development of targeted therapies with immunotherapies (Gioeli/Weber labs, Microbiology).

Consequentially, we are a highly translation-focused lab, participating in Phase I clinical trials for the fully human agonistic antibody for CD27 (Celldex Therapeutics); an exploratory study using stereotactic-radiation and either immune costimulation (CD27) or checkpoint blockade (anti-CLTA-4 or PD-1) for prostate cancer (Larner/Showalter, Radiation Oncology); and the use of either CD27 or CD40 agonistic antibodies to augment peptide vaccines for melanoma (Slingluff lab, Surgical Oncology). By understanding the extent of activation and differentiation of the responding T cells, both in blood and in the tumor, we hope to determine whether any deficiencies exist in the patient's T cell response, and whether additional interventions may overcome such deficiencies.

Selected Publications

  • Stimulating CD27 to quantitatively and qualitatively shape adaptive immunity to cancer. Current opinion in immunology. 2017;45 82-88. PMID: 28319731 | PMCID: PMC5449212
  • TNF-receptor superfamily agonists as molecular adjuvants for cancer vaccines. Current opinion in immunology. 2017;47 70-77. PMID: 28750279 | PMCID: PMC5626616
  • Burris H, Infante J, Ansell S, Nemunaitis J, Weiss G, Villalobos V, Sikic B, Taylor M, Northfelt D, Carson W, Hawthorne T, Davis T, Yellin M, Keler T, Bullock T. Safety and Activity of Varlilumab, a Novel and First-in-Class Agonist Anti-CD27 Antibody, in Patients With Advanced Solid Tumors. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. 2017;35(18): 2028-2036. PMID: 28463630
  • Curley C, Sheybani N, Bullock T, Price R. Focused Ultrasound Immunotherapy for Central Nervous System Pathologies: Challenges and Opportunities. Theranostics. 2017;7(15): 3608-3623. PMID: 29109764 | PMCID: PMC5667336
  • Dill E, Gru A, Atkins K, Friedman L, Moore M, Bullock T, Cross J, Dillon P, Mills A. PD-L1 Expression and Intratumoral Heterogeneity Across Breast Cancer Subtypes and Stages: An Assessment of 245 Primary and 40 Metastatic Tumors. The American journal of surgical pathology. 2017;41(3): 334-342. PMID: 28195880
  • Michaels A, Newhook T, Adair S, Morioka S, Goudreau B, Nagdas S, Mullen M, Persily J, Bullock T, Slingluff C, Ravichandran K, Parsons J, Bauer T. CD47 Blockade as an Adjuvant Immunotherapy for Resectable Pancreatic Cancer. Clinical cancer research : an official journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. 2017. PMID: 29288236
  • Mills A, Dill E, Moskaluk C, Dziegielewski J, Bullock T, Dillon P. The Relationship Between Mismatch Repair Deficiency and PD-L1 Expression in Breast Carcinoma. The American journal of surgical pathology. 2017. PMID: 28914717
  • Obeid J, Kunk P, Zaydfudim V, Bullock T, Slingluff C, Rahma O. Immunotherapy for hepatocellular carcinoma patients: is it ready for prime time? Cancer immunology, immunotherapy : CII. 2017. PMID: 29052780
  • Seki S, Stevenson M, Rosen A, Arandjelovic S, Gemta L, Bullock T, Gaultier A. Lineage-Specific Metabolic Properties and Vulnerabilities of T Cells in the Demyelinating Central Nervous System. Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950). 2017;198(12): 4607-4617. PMID: 28507026 | PMCID: PMC5485845
  • Siska P, Beckermann K, Mason F, Andrejeva G, Greenplate A, Sendor A, Chiang Y, Corona A, Gemta L, Vincent B, Wang R, Kim B, Hong J, Chen C, Bullock T, Irish J, Rathmell W, Rathmell J. Mitochondrial dysregulation and glycolytic insufficiency functionally impair CD8 T cells infiltrating human renal cell carcinoma. JCI insight. 2017;2(12). PMID: 28614802 | PMCID: PMC5470888
  • Bullock T, Elliott J, Serences J, Giesbrecht B. Acute Exercise Modulates Feature-selective Responses in Human Cortex. Journal of cognitive neuroscience. 2016;29(4): 605-618. PMID: 27897672
  • Obeid J, Erdag G, Smolkin M, Deacon D, Patterson J, Chen L, Bullock T, Slingluff C. PD-L1, PD-L2 and PD-1 expression in metastatic melanoma: Correlation with tumor-infiltrating immune cells and clinical outcome. Oncoimmunology. 2016;5(11): e1235107. PMID: 27999753 | PMCID: PMC5139635
  • Teoh J, Gamache A, Gillespie A, Stadnisky M, Yagita H, Bullock T, Brown M. Acute Virus Control Mediated by Licensed NK Cells Sets Primary CD8+ T Cell Dependence on CD27 Costimulation. Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950). 2016;197(11): 4360-4370. PMID: 27798162 | PMCID: PMC5123769
  • Resident good? Persistent infection increases the number of potentially protective T cells localized in peripheral tissue. Journal of leukocyte biology. 2015;97(2): 211-3. PMID: 25649788
  • Dong H, Franklin N, Ritchea S, Yagita H, Glennie M, Bullock T. CD70 and IFN-1 selectively induce eomesodermin or T-bet and synergize to promote CD8+ T-cell responses. European journal of immunology. 2015;45(12): 3289-301. PMID: 26461455 | PMCID: PMC4752831
  • IL-27 and the generation of CD8+ T-cell responses to peptide vaccines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2014;111(47): 16639-40. PMID: 25404318
  • Dong H, Bullock T. Metabolic influences that regulate dendritic cell function in tumors. Frontiers in immunology. 2014;5 24. PMID: 24523723 | PMCID: PMC3906600
  • Dong H, Franklin N, Roberts D, Yagita H, Glennie M, Bullock T. CD27 stimulation promotes the frequency of IL-7 receptor-expressing memory precursors and prevents IL-12-mediated loss of CD8(+) T cell memory in the absence of CD4(+) T cell help. Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950). 2012;188(8): 3829-38. PMID: 22422886 | PMCID: PMC3326605
  • Stadnisky M, Xie X, Coats E, Bullock T, Brown M. Self MHC class I-licensed NK cells enhance adaptive CD8 T-cell viral immunity. Blood. 2011;117(19): 5133-41. PMID: 21436069 | PMCID: PMC3109538
  • Roberts D, Franklin N, Kingeter L, Yagita H, Tutt A, Glennie M, Bullock T. Control of established melanoma by CD27 stimulation is associated with enhanced effector function and persistence, and reduced PD-1 expression of tumor infiltrating CD8(+) T cells. Journal of immunotherapy (Hagerstown, Md. : 1997). 2010;33(8): 769-79. PMID: 20842060 | PMCID: PMC2955154
  • Van Deusen K, Rajapakse R, Bullock T. CD70 expression by dendritic cells plays a critical role in the immunogenicity of CD40-independent, CD4+ T cell-dependent, licensed CD8+ T cell responses. Journal of leukocyte biology. 2009;87(3): 477-85. PMID: 19952354 | PMCID: PMC2830127
  • Ferguson A, Nichols L, Zarling A, Thompson E, Brinkman C, Hargadon K, Bullock T, Engelhard V. Strategies and challenges in eliciting immunity to melanoma. Immunological reviews. 2008;222 28-42. PMID: 18363993 | PMCID: PMC2882710
  • Hwang M, Lukens J, Bullock T. Cognate memory CD4+ T cells generated with dendritic cell priming influence the expansion, trafficking, and differentiation of secondary CD8+ T cells and enhance tumor control. Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950). 2007;179(9): 5829-38. PMID: 17947656
  • Hargadon K, Brinkman C, Sheasley-O'neill S, Nichols L, Bullock T, Engelhard V. Incomplete differentiation of antigen-specific CD8 T cells in tumor-draining lymph nodes. Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950). 2006;177(9): 6081-90. PMID: 17056534
  • Slingluff C, Chianese-Bullock K, Bullock T, Grosh W, Mullins D, Nichols L, Olson W, Petroni G, Smolkin M, Engelhard V. Immunity to melanoma antigens: from self-tolerance to immunotherapy. Advances in immunology. 2006;90 243-95. PMID: 16730266