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Semin Immunol. 2008 Oct;20(5):276-85. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2008.07.001. Epub 2008 Aug 5.

Specificity in cancer immunotherapy.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Committee on Immunology, The University of Chicago, 5841 South Maryland Avenue MC 3008, Chicago, IL 60637, USA. hszz@midway.uchicago.edu


From the earliest days in the field of tumor immunology three questions have been asked: do cancer cells express tumor-specific antigens, does the immune system recognize these antigens and if so, what is their biochemical nature? We now know that truly tumor-specific antigens exist, that they are caused by somatic mutations, and that these antigens can induce both humoral and cell-mediated immune responses. Because tumor-specific antigens are exclusively expressed by the cancer cell and are often crucial for tumorigenicity, they are ideal targets for anti-cancer immunotherapy. Nevertheless, the antigens that are targeted today by anti-tumor immunotherapy are not tumor-specific antigens, but antigens that are normal molecules also expressed by normal tissues (so-called "tumor-associated" antigens). If tumor-specific antigens exist and are ideal targets for immunotherapy, why are they not being targeted? In this review, we summarize current knowledge of tumor-specific antigens: their identification, immunological relevance and clinical use. We discuss novel tumor-specific epitopes and propose new approaches that could improve the success of cancer immunotherapy, especially for the treatment of solid tumors.

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