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Int J Cancer. 1999 Oct 29;83(3):393-400.

Targeting HER-2/neu for active-specific immunotherapy in a mouse model of spontaneous breast cancer.

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Department of Clinical Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.


The identification of tumor-associated antigens has led to increased interest in vaccination strategies to treat and/or prevent cancer. This study examined the feasibility of active-specific immunotherapy against the breast-tumor antigen HER-2/neu using a HER-2/neu transgenic (rNeu-TG) mouse model. rNeu-TG mice develop spontaneous breast tumors after pregnancy, indicating that they fail to mount an effective immune response against rNeu. Allogeneic fibroblasts expressing HER-2/neu were used as a cell-based vaccine. Vaccination induced a rNeu-specific anti-tumor immune response that prevented tumor formation of transplanted breast-tumor cells, and also protected mice from spontaneous tumor formation. Both T-cell-mediated and humoral immune responses were detectable in vaccinated mice. Vaccination also protected tumor-bearing mice from a challenge with cell suspensions isolated from spontaneous tumors, indicating that rNeu-TG mice are not tolerant to rNeu, even after spontaneous tumor formation. However, established spontaneous tumors themselves were never affected. This observation correlated with T-cell infiltrations in the injected but not in the established spontaneous tumor. Thus, allogeneic fibroblasts are efficient vaccine vectors to prime a specific immune response against an over-expressed tumor antigen. Moreover, our results suggest striking differences in the immunological requirements for the rejection of an established vs. a transplanted tumor.

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