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Semin Immunol. 2008 Oct;20(5):276-85. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2008.07.001. Epub 2008 Aug 5.

Specificity in cancer immunotherapy.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Committee on Immunology, The University of Chicago, 5841 South Maryland Avenue MC 3008, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


From the earliest days in the field of tumor immunology three questions have been asked: do cancer cells express tumor-specific antigens, does the immune system recognize these antigens and if so, what is their biochemical nature? We now know that truly tumor-specific antigens exist, that they are caused by somatic mutations, and that these antigens can induce both humoral and cell-mediated immune responses. Because tumor-specific antigens are exclusively expressed by the cancer cell and are often crucial for tumorigenicity, they are ideal targets for anti-cancer immunotherapy. Nevertheless, the antigens that are targeted today by anti-tumor immunotherapy are not tumor-specific antigens, but antigens that are normal molecules also expressed by normal tissues (so-called "tumor-associated" antigens). If tumor-specific antigens exist and are ideal targets for immunotherapy, why are they not being targeted? In this review, we summarize current knowledge of tumor-specific antigens: their identification, immunological relevance and clinical use. We discuss novel tumor-specific epitopes and propose new approaches that could improve the success of cancer immunotherapy, especially for the treatment of solid tumors.

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