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PLoS One. 2010 Jul 26;5(7):e11770. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011770.

PR1-specific T cells are associated with unmaintained cytogenetic remission of chronic myelogenous leukemia after interferon withdrawal.

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  • 1Section of Transplant Immunology, Department of Blood and Marrow Transplantation, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas, United States of America.



Interferon-alpha (IFN) induces complete cytogenetic remission (CCR) in 20-25% CML patients and in a small minority of patients; CCR persists after IFN is stopped. IFN induces CCR in part by increasing cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) specific for PR1, the HLA-A2-restricted 9-mer peptide from proteinase 3 and neutrophil elastase, but it is unknown how CCR persists after IFN is stopped.


We reasoned that PR1-CTL persist and mediate CML-specific immunity in patients that maintain CCR after IFN withdrawal. We found that PR1-CTL were increased in peripheral blood of 7/7 HLA-A2+ patients during unmaintained CCR from 3 to 88 months after IFN withdrawal, as compared to no detectable PR1-CTL in 2/2 IFN-treated CML patients not in CCR. Unprimed PR1-CTL secreted IFNgamma and were predominantly CD45RA+/-CD28+CCR7+CD57-, consistent with functional naïve and central memory (CM) T cells. Similarly, following stimulation, proliferation occurred predominantly in CM PR1-CTL, consistent with long-term immunity sustained by self-renewing CM T cells. PR1-CTL were functionally anergic in one patient 6 months prior to cytogenetic relapse at 26 months after IFN withdrawal, and in three relapsed patients PR1-CTL were undetectable but re-emerged 3-6 months after starting imatinib.


These data support the hypothesis that IFN elicits CML-specific CM CTL that may contribute to continuous CCR after IFN withdrawal and suggest a role for T cell immune therapy with or without tyrosine kinase inhibitors as a strategy to prolong CR in CML.

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