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J Transl Med. 2008 Oct 22;6:61. doi: 10.1186/1479-5876-6-61.

Validation of a HLA-A2 tetramer flow cytometric method, IFNgamma real time RT-PCR, and IFNgamma ELISPOT for detection of immunologic response to gp100 and MelanA/MART-1 in melanoma patients.

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Genzyme Corporation, One Mountain Road, Framingham, Massachusetts, MA 01701, USA.



HLA-A2 tetramer flow cytometry, IFNgamma real time RT-PCR and IFNgamma ELISPOT assays are commonly used as surrogate immunological endpoints for cancer immunotherapy. While these are often used as research assays to assess patient's immunologic response, assay validation is necessary to ensure reliable and reproducible results and enable more accurate data interpretation. Here we describe a rigorous validation approach for each of these assays prior to their use for clinical sample analysis.


Standard operating procedures for each assay were established. HLA-A2 (A*0201) tetramer assay specific for gp100209(210M) and MART-126-35(27L), IFNgamma real time RT-PCR and ELISPOT methods were validated using tumor infiltrating lymphocyte cell lines (TIL) isolated from HLA-A2 melanoma patients. TIL cells, specific for gp100 (TIL 1520) or MART-1 (TIL 1143 and TIL1235), were used alone or spiked into cryopreserved HLA-A2 PBMC from healthy subjects. TIL/PBMC were stimulated with peptides (gp100209, gp100pool, MART-127-35, or influenza-M1 and negative control peptide HIV) to further assess assay performance characteristics for real time RT-PCR and ELISPOT methods. Validation parameters included specificity, accuracy, precision, linearity of dilution, limit of detection (LOD) and limit of quantification (LOQ). In addition, distribution was established in normal HLA-A2 PBMC samples. Reference ranges for assay controls were established.


The validation process demonstrated that the HLA-A2 tetramer, IFNgamma real time RT-PCR, and IFNgamma ELISPOT were highly specific for each antigen, with minimal cross-reactivity between gp100 and MelanA/MART-1. The assays were sensitive; detection could be achieved at as few as 1/4545-1/6667 cells by tetramer analysis, 1/50,000 cells by real time RT-PCR, and 1/10,000-1/20,000 by ELISPOT. The assays met criteria for precision with %CV < 20% (except ELISPOT using high PBMC numbers with %CV < 25%) although flow cytometric assays and cell based functional assays are known to have high assay variability. Most importantly, assays were demonstrated to be effective for their intended use. A positive IFNgamma response (by RT-PCR and ELISPOT) to gp100 was demonstrated in PBMC from 3 melanoma patients. Another patient showed a positive MART-1 response measured by all 3 validated methods.


Our results demonstrated the tetramer flow cytometry assay, IFNgamma real-time RT-PCR, and INFgamma ELISPOT met validation criteria. Validation approaches provide a guide for others in the field to validate these and other similar assays for assessment of patient T cell response. These methods can be applied not only to cancer vaccines but to other therapeutic proteins as part of immunogenicity and safety analyses.

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