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Endocr Relat Cancer. 2002 Mar;9(1):33-44.

Vaccination against the HER-2/neu oncogenic protein.

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Technical University of Munich, Klinikum rechts der Isar, Department of Hematology and Oncology, Ismaningerstrasse 22, D-81664 Munich, Germany.


The HER-2/neu oncogenic protein is a well-defined tumor antigen. HER-2/neu is a shared antigen among multiple tumor types. Patients with HER-2/neu protein-overexpressing breast, ovarian, non-small cell lung, colon, and prostate cancers have been shown to have a pre-existent immune response to HER-2/neu. No matter what the tumor type, endogenous immunity to HER-2/neu detected in cancer patients demonstrates two predominant characteristics. First, HER-2/neu-specific immune responses are found in only a minority of patients whose tumors overexpress HER-2/neu. Secondly, immunity, if detectable, is of low magnitude. These observations have led to the development of vaccine strategies designed to boost HER-2/neu immunity in a majority of patients. HER-2/neu is a non-mutated self-protein, therefore vaccines must be developed based on immunologic principles focused on circumventing tolerance, a primary mechanism of tumor immune escape. HER-2/neu-specific vaccines have been tested in human clinical trials. Early results demonstrate that significant levels of HER-2/neu immunity can be generated with active immunization. The T-cell immunity elicited is durable after vaccinations have ended. Furthermore, despite the generation of CD8(+) and CD4(+) T-cells responsive to HER-2/neu in a majority of patients, there is no evidence of autoimmunity directed against tissues that express basal levels of the protein. Cancer vaccines targeting the HER-2/neu oncogenic protein may be useful adjuvants to standard therapy and aid in the prevention of relapse in patients whose tumors overexpress the protein. Furthermore, boosting HER-2/neu-specific T-cell frequencies via active immunization may allow the ex vivo expansion of HER-2/neu-specific T-cells for use in adoptive immunotherapy, a therapeutic strategy directed against the treatment of established disease.

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