Research Article

Diversity and Recognition Efficiency of T Cell Responses to Cancer

  • Tor B Stuge,

    Affiliation: Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America

  • Susan P Holmes,

    Affiliation: Department of Statistics, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America

  • Sahdev Saharan,

    Affiliation: Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America

  • Andrea Tuettenberg,

    Affiliation: Department of Dermatology, J. Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany

  • Mario Roederer,

    Affiliation: ImmunoTechnology Section, Vaccine Research Center, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America

  • Jeffrey S Weber,

    Affiliation: Norris Cancer Center, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, United States of America

  • Peter P Lee

    Affiliation: Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America

  • Published: November 30, 2004
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0010028

Reader Comments (2)

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Response to Speiser et al.

Posted by plosmedicine on 30 Mar 2009 at 23:40 GMT

Author: Tor B. Stuge, Peter P. Lee
Position: No occupation was given
Institution: Stanford University
Submitted Date: February 01, 2005
Published Date: February 4, 2005
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

Drs. Speiser, Cerottini, and Romero correctly point out that CD8+ T cells from HLA-A*0201 melanoma patients and healthy donors may contain small populations (on average, 0.07 +/- 0.05% in their publications [1,2]) which bind tetramers made with the heteroclitic Melan-A M26 peptide, and that such cells express a naive phenotype (CD45RA+). We too observe this phenomenon in a portion of HLA-A*0201 healthy donors and melanoma patients we analyze with M26 tetramers. Importantly, this is not seen in all subjects. These cells do not recognize the native M27 peptide, and represent cross-reactive subsets of native CD8+ T cells of multiple specificities [3]. We routinely analyze all subjects pre-vaccination and the four post-vaccination responses analyzed in our report [4] did not contain M26 or gp100 tetramer binding cells pre-vaccination (data not shown). Thus, it was unlikely that M26-crossreactive cells spontaneously developed post-vaccination (not due to peptide vaccination) and were the basis of some of the low recognition efficiency MART-specific clones we analyzed. Furthermore, such a phenomenon has been seen only with M26 and not with the heteroclitic gp100 (G209-2M) peptide, so would not be a factor in the gp100-specific responses we analyzed.

The authors also point out that in their experience, they found that the majority of T cells generated with the heteroclitic Melan-A M26 peptide were tumor reactive, citing their studies in vitro [5], in mice [6], and in melanoma patients [7]. We focus on their publication on melanoma patients as this is most directly relevant to our study. This report [7] focused on three melanoma patients immunized with M26 and analyzed T cells from lymph nodes draining the vaccination site (vaccine-site sential nodes or VSSN). VSSN from these three patients contained 0.11% (0.08-0.15%) MART-specific T cells by tetramer staining. Importantly, contralateral LNs in these subjects (distant from the vaccination site) also contained 0.06% (0.05-0.09%) MART-specific T cells. With their reported background of <0.01%, this suggests the possibility of endogenous MART-specific T cells within LNs in these subjects. These authors have shown in previous studies that endogenous MART-specific T cell responses frequently exist within lymph nodes, even in the absence of such cells in PBMC [8]. Furthermore, these VSSN responses were analyzed only after two vaccinations, while the authors could not detect circulating MART-specific T cells in any of these three subjects even after six vaccinations. MART-specific T cell lines were generated via tetramer-guided sorting of VSSN cells from patients 2 and 3, then individual clones generated via limiting dilution. They reported 16 of 17 clones killed A2+ MART+ melanoma targets. Without knowing the Vbeta usage of these clones and the Vbeta diversity of the parental MART-specific populations, it is difficult to know what fraction of each response these clones accounted for in the two subjects, as we have done in our study. More importantly, these tumor-reactive clones analyzed may be derived from endogenous T cell responses, possibly amplified by vaccination, rather than from de novo vaccine-elicited T cell responses. If so, these data would in fact fit well with our findings that endogenous responses consist mainly of cells with tumor-cytolytic potential that recognize the native peptide with high recognition efficiency.

In our study [4], we analyzed in detail four vaccine-elicited T cell responses (two to M26 and two to G209-2M) via the generation of >200 CTL clones, and assessed the fraction of each response that these clones accounted for collectively by analyzing the Vbeta usage of each clone and the parental peptide-specific populations. From this, we showed that the vaccine-elicited T cells were diverse in their tumor-cytolytic potential, which correlated with their recognition efficiency for the native peptides. It is important to point out that tumor-cytolytic T cells were present in these four subjects, but represented a significantly lower fraction than those derived from endogenous responses. These data are consistent with those we recently reported using a different experimental approach ??A?A? assessing the fraction of T cells in a tetramer+ population which degranulate (via CD107 mobilization) to tumor stimulation [9]. While generating individual CTL clones and analyzing each for tumor killing and recognition efficiency, as we have done in this study, is the most definitive approach to analyze individual cells within an antigen-specific T cell response, this approach is extremely labor-intensive, and thus not feasible for large numbers of subjects. As such, more rapid flow cytometry-based methods such as the CD107 mobilization assay, and a new method to rapidly assess recognition efficiency of a T cell population via differential TCR downregulation [10] will allow analysis of many more subjects to various vaccine formulations and strategies. This knowledge will be vital to the improvement of future cancer immunotherapies.


1. Zippelius A, Batard P, Rubio-Godoy V, Bioley G, Lienard D, et al. (2004) Effector function of human tumor-specific CD8 T cells in melanoma lesions: a state of local functional tolerance. Cancer Res 64: 2865-2873.

2. Romero P, Valmori D, Pittet MJ, Zippelius A, Rimoldi D, et al. (2002) Antigenicity and immunogenicity of Melan-A/MART-1 derived peptides as targets for tumor reactive CTL in human melanoma. Immunol Rev 188: 81-96.

3. Dutoit V, Rubio-Godoy V, Pittet MJ, Zippelius A, Dietrich PY, et al. (2002) Degeneracy of antigen recognition as the molecular basis for the high frequency of naive A2/Melan-a peptide multimer(+) CD8(+) T cells in humans. J Exp Med 196: 207-216.

4. Stuge TB, Holmes SP, Saharan S, Tuettenberg A, Roederer M, et al. (2004) Diversity and Recognition Efficiency of T Cell Responses to Cancer. Plos Med 1: e28.

5. Valmori D, Fonteneau JF, Lizana CM, Gervois N, Lienard D, et al. (1998) Enhanced generation of specific tumor-reactive CTL in vitro by selected Melan-A/MART-1 immunodominant peptide analogues. J Immunol 160: 1750-1758.

6. Men Y, Miconnet I, Valmori D, Rimoldi D, Cerottini JC, et al. (1999) Assessment of immunogenicity of human Melan-A peptide analogues in HLA-A*0201/Kb transgenic mice. J Immunol 162: 3566-3573.

7. Ayyoub M, Zippelius A, Pittet MJ, Rimoldi D, Valmori D, et al. (2003) Activation of human melanoma reactive CD8+ T cells by vaccination with an immunogenic peptide analog derived from Melan-A/melanoma antigen recognized by T cells-1. Clin Cancer Res 9: 669-677.

8. Romero P, Dunbar PR, Valmori D, Pittet M, Ogg GS, et al. (1998) Ex vivo staining of metastatic lymph nodes by class I major histocompatibility complex tetramers reveals high numbers of antigen-experienced tumor-specific cytolytic T lymphocytes. J Exp Med 188: 1641-1650.

9. Rubio V, Stuge TB, Singh N, Betts MR, Weber JS, et al. (2003) Ex vivo identification, isolation and analysis of tumor-cytolytic T cells. Nat Med 9: 1377-1382.

10. Kohrt HE, Shu CT, Holmes SP, Weber JS, Lee PP (2005) Rapid assessment of recognition efficiency of antigen-specific T cell responses. submitted.

No competing interests declared.