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Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2004 Jun;53(6):490-6. Epub 2004 Jan 22.

Ii-Key/HER-2/neu MHC class-II antigenic epitope vaccine peptide for breast cancer.

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M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1525 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030, USA.



Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL)- and T-helper cell-specific, and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class-I and class-II peptides, respectively, of the HER-2/ neu protein, induce immune responses in patients. A major challenge in developing cancer peptide vaccines is breaking tolerance to tumor-associated antigens which are functionally self-proteins. An adequate CD4+ T-helper response is required for effective and lasting responses.


Stimulating anti-cancer CD4+ T cell responses by MHC class-II epitope peptides has been limited by their weak potency, at least compared with tight-binding MHC class-I epitope peptides. Previously, a potent T-cell response to a MHC class-II epitope was engineered by coupling the N-terminus of the pigeon cytochrome C [PGCC(95-104)] MHC class-II epitope to the C-terminus of an immunoregulatory segment of the Ii protein (hIi77-81, the Ii-Key peptide) through a polymethylene spacer.


In vitro presentation of the MHC class-II epitope to a T hybridoma was enhanced greatly (>250 times). Now, an Ii-Key/HER-2/neu (777-789) MHC class-II epitope hybrid peptide stimulated lymphocytes from both a healthy donor and a patient with metastatic breast carcinoma. The in vitro primary stimulation with the hybrid peptide strongly activated IFN-gamma release, whereas the epitope-only peptide was weakly active. In fact, the hybrid stimulated IFN-gamma release as well as the wild-type peptide when augmented with IL-12; however, the hybrid was comparable to free peptide in stimulating IL-4 release. This pattern is consistent with preferential activation along a non-tolerogenic Th1 pathway.


Such Ii-Key/MHC class-II epitope hybrid peptides have both diagnostic and therapeutic applications.

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