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Cancer Immunol Res. 2019 Mar 19. pii: canimm.0137.2018. doi: 10.1158/2326-6066.CIR-18-0137. [Epub ahead of print]

T cells specific for an unconventional natural antigen fail to recognize leukemic cells.

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Hematology, Leiden University Medical Center.
Hematology, University Medical Center Utrecht.
Department of Immunopathology, Sanquin.
Dept. of Hematology, VU Medical Center.
Dept. of Hematology, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam.
Department of Immunopathology, Sanquin Research and Landsteiner Laboratory AMC/UvA


MHC bound peptides from aberrant proteins may be a specific immunotherapeutic target on cancer cells. Due to difficulties in identifying such antigens, viral or model antigens have so far been used to study their biological relevance. We here identify a naturally existing human T-cell epitope derived from a truncated protein. The antigenic peptide is derived from the gene TTK only through an alternative transcript containing a premature termination codon that may target the transcript for nonsense-mediated decay (NMD). This antigen is recognized by HLA-A*02:01-restricted CD8+ T cells derived from an allotransplanted leukemia patient. Functional analyses showed that these T cells failed to recognize several HLA-matched primary leukemic cells that expressed the alternative TTK transcript. Conventional antigen processing and presentation were not affected, suggesting that leukemic cells modify the generation of antigens processed from aberrant proteins. This natural TTK epitope provides insights in the source of transcripts producing antigenic epitopes in healthy and leukemic cells. Our data underscore potential pitfalls of targeting NMD-derived or other unconventionally generated epitopes as immunotherapeutic approach.

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