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Cancer Metastasis Rev. 1996 Sep;15(3):329-49.

Immunotherapy II: Antigens, receptors and costimulation.

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  • 1University of Birmingham CRC Institute for Cancer Studies, Medical School, UK.


To generate a cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) response to cancer cells requires tumour-specific antigens appropriately processed and displayed by the MHC proteins; T-lymphocytes with receptors of appropriate specificity to recognise these; and initial antigen presentation to the immune system in an immunogenic context. In vitro, autologous tumour-specific CTL have been raised against a number of tumours, thus at least some patients have a suitable combination of antigen and receptor. Vaccination with antigen, or with DNA or viral vectors encoding the antigen, leading to the presentation of identified antigens in an immunogenic context, can activate T-cells which provide protection from tumour in animal models. An alternative approach uses gene transfer to T-cells, causing them to express novel receptors which direct their cytotoxic activity towards the tumour. Non-specific immune adjuvants, and expression of novel antigens on tumour cells, are briefly discussed. Recent advances in understanding the requirements for T-cell activation suggest that failure to efficiently present antigen in an immunogenic context may explain the apparent lack of tumour-specific CTL activation in vivo. In mice, expression of the costimulatory molecule B7-1 on tumour cells, following gene transfer, allows the modified tumour cells to act as antigen-presenting cells, inducing protective and therapeutic CTL responses in some cases. Clinical trials of some approaches have commenced, with some encouraging results which provide a basis for further development of immunological gene therapy.

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