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Cancer Res. 2002 Jun 15;62(12):3521-9.

Frequencies of tetramer+ T cells specific for the wild-type sequence p53(264-272) peptide in the circulation of patients with head and neck cancer.

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University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA.


Immunization with wild-type sequence (wt) p53 epitopes represents a novel therapeutic strategy for cancer patients with tumors accumulating mutant p53. To evaluate usefulness of p53-derived peptides as future cancer vaccines, frequencies of wt p53(264-272) peptide-specific CD8+ T cells were determined in the peripheral circulation of patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN). T cells of 30 HLA-A2.1+ patients and 31 HLA-A2.1+ healthy individuals were evaluated by multicolor flow cytometry analysis using peptide-HLA-A2.1 complexes (tetramers). T cells specific for an influenza matrix peptide (a model recall antigen) or an HIV reverse transcriptase peptide (a model novel antigen) were studied in parallel. Patients with SCCHN had a significantly higher mean frequency of CD8+ T cells specific for wt p53(264-272) than normal donors (P = 0.0041). Surprisingly, the frequency of epitope-specific T cells in the circulation of patients did not correlate with p53 accumulation in the tumor. In patients whose tumors had normal p53 expression or had p53 gene mutations preventing presentation of this epitope, high frequencies of wt p53(264-272)-specific CD8+ T cells were found, of which many were memory T cells. In contrast, patients whose tumors accumulated p53 had low frequencies of wt p53(264-272)-specific CD8+ T cells, which predominantly had a naive phenotype and were unable to proliferate ex vivo in response to the epitope, as reported by us previously (T. K. Hoffmann, J. Immunol., 165: 5938-5944, 2000). This seemingly contradictory relationship between the high frequency of epitope-specific T cells and wt p53 expression in the tumor suggests that other factors may contribute to the observed anti-p53 responses. Human papillomavirus-16 E6/E7 expression is common in SCCHN, and E6 is known to promote presentation of wt p53 epitopes. Although human papillomavirus-16 E6/E7 expression was detected in 46% of the tumors, it did not correlate with the frequency of wt p53(264-272)-specific CD8+ T cells or with p53 expression in the tumor. These findings emphasize the complexity of interactions between the tumor and the host immune system, and, thus, have particularly important implications for future p53-based immunization strategies.

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