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Semin Pediatr Neurol. 2000 Jun;7(2):131-43.

Exploitation of immune mechanisms in the treatment of central nervous system cancer.

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  • 1Department of Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Brain Tumor Center, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Malignant gliomas are among the most common intrinsic brain tumors of both children and adults, and, because of unique aspects of their biology and anatomic site, they are the most refractory to conventional therapeutic strategies involving surgery, radiotherapy, or chemotherapy. Given the failure of standard therapies to improve the outlook of affected patients, significant attention has been focused on development of alternative treatments, particularly immunotherapy. Attempts have been made to treat gliomas using a variety of immunologically based strategies, including passive immunization, adoptive cellular immunotherapy, local and systemic delivery of biological response modifiers, and vaccination with tumor cells. Although preclinical modeling of these therapies provided an impetus for translation of their results into clinical protocols, these therapies have failed to yield consistently promising results in initial trials. However, significant insights into the immunobiology of the central nervous system (CNS) and gliomas have been gained from these studies, and have established that a number of immunobiological features of the brain and of gliomas themselves may be critical determinants in regulating efficacious treatment of these tumors. These include the following: (1) the presence of a blood-brain barrier that, although partially disrupted by the tumor, functions to exclude elements of the immune system from the tumor or brain parenchyma; (2) a lack of organized secondary lymphatic tissues supporting efficient immune responses locally in the CNS; (3) low levels of expression of major histocompatibility complex proteins in the CNS; (4) an apparent paucity of the most efficient antigen-presenting cells; and (5) glioma-derived immunosuppressive factors, such as transforming growth factor-beta, that interfere with the induction of local as well as systemic immune responses to the tumor. Recognition of these factors, and an appreciation of the underlying need for and validity of developing immunologically based therapies for gliomas, supports continued development of novel immunotherapeutic approaches, particularly those attempting to enhance the immunogenicity of glioma cells. This review addresses the current state of knowledge regarding the immunobiology of gliomas, recent developments in immunotherapy of gliomas, and promising future directions for development and implementation of cellular immunotherapy of gliomas.

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