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Cancer Res. 1999 Jul 1;59(13):3134-42.

Generation of human T-cell responses to an HLA-A2.1-restricted peptide epitope derived from alpha-fetoprotein.

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Division of Surgical Oncology, University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, University of California Los Angeles, 90095-1782, USA.


Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is often derepressed in human hepatocellular carcinoma. Peptide fragments of AFP presented in the context of major histocompatibility molecules could serve as potential recognition targets by CD8 T cells, provided these lymphocytes were not clonally deleted in ontogeny. We therefore wished to determine whether the human T-cell repertoire could recognize AFP-derived peptide epitopes in the context of a common class I allele, HLA-A2.1. Dendritic cells genetically engineered to express AFP were capable of generating AFP-specific T-cell responses in autologous human lymphocyte cultures and in HLA-A2.1/Kb transgenic mice. These T cells recognize a 9-mer peptide derived from the AFP protein hAFP(542-550) (GVALQTMKQ). Identified as a potential A2.1-restricted peptide epitope from a computer analysis of the AFP sequence, hAFP(542-550) proved to have low binding affinity to A2.1, but slow off-kinetics. AFP-specific CTL- and IFN-gamma-producing cells recognize hAFP(542-550)-pulsed targets. Conversely, hAFP(542-550) peptide-generated T cells from both human lymphocyte cultures and A2.1/Kb transgenic mice recognized AFP-transfected targets in both cytotoxicity assays and cytokine release assays. These lines of evidence clearly demonstrate that AFP-reactive clones have not been deleted from the human T-cell repertoire and identify one immunodominant A2.1-restricted epitope. These findings also clearly establish AFP as a potential target for T-cell-based immunotherapy.

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