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Immunology. 2017 Jan;150(1):25-34. doi: 10.1111/imm.12664. Epub 2016 Sep 20.

Adaptive immunity programmes in breast cancer.

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Department of Molecular and Systems Biology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Hanover, NH, USA.
Department of Medical Education, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Hanover, NH, USA.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Lebanon, NH, USA.
Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Lebanon, NH, USA.
Department of Biomedical Data Science, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Lebanon, NH, USA.


The role of the immune system in shaping cancer development and patient prognosis has recently become an area of intense focus in industry and academia. Harnessing the adaptive arm of the immune system for tumour eradication has shown great promise in a variety of tumour types. Differences between tissues, however, necessitate a greater understanding of the adaptive immunity programmes that are active within each tumour type. In breast cancer, adaptive immune programmes play diverse roles depending on the cellular infiltration found in each tumour. Cytotoxic T lymphocytes and T helper type 1 cells can induce tumour eradication, whereas regulatory T cells and T helper type 2 cells are known to be involved in tumour-promoting immunosuppressive responses. Complicating these matters, heterogeneous expression of hormone receptors and growth factors in different tumours leads to disparate, patient-specific adaptive immune responses. Despite this non-conformity in adaptive immune behaviours, encouraging basic and clinical results have been observed that suggest a role for immunotherapeutic approaches in breast cancer. Here, we review the literature pertaining to the adaptive immune response in breast cancer, summarize the primary findings relating to the breast tumour's biology, and discuss potential clinical immunotherapies.


T cells; adaptive immunity; breast cancer; immunotherapy; neoantigens

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