CTL-defined cancer vaccines: perspectives for active immunotherapeutic interventions in minimal residual disease

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 1999;18(1):143-50. doi: 10.1023/a:1006220707618.


The characterization of tumor-associated antigens recognized by cellular or humoral effectors of the immune system has opened new perspectives for cancer therapy. Several categories of cancer-associated antigens have been described as targets for cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) in vitro and in vivo: (1) 'Cancer-Testis' (CT) antigens expressed in different tumors and normal testis, (2) melanocyte differentiation antigens, (3) point mutations of normal genes, (4) antigens that are overexpressed in malignant tissues, and (5) viral antigens. Clinical studies with peptides derived from these antigens have been initiated to induce specific CTL responses in vivo. Immunological and clinical parameters for the assessment of peptide-specific reactions have been defined, i.e. induction of DTH-, CTL-, autoimmune-, and tumor-regression responses. Preliminary results demonstrate that tumor-associated peptides alone elicit specific DTH- and CTL-responses leading to tumor regression after intradermal injection. GM-CSF was proven effective to enhance peptide-specific immune reactions by amplification of dermal peptide-presenting dendritic cells. Long lasting complete tumor regressions have been observed after induction of CTL by peptide immunization. Based on these results, active immunotherapy with tumor-associated antigens may be a promising approach for patients with minimal residual disease, who are at high risk for tumor recurrence. However, in single cases with disease progression after an initial tumor response either a loss of the respective tumor antigen targeted by CTL or of the presenting MHC class I molecule was detected as mechanisms of immune escape under immunization in vivo. Based on these observations, cytokines to enhance antigen- and MHC-class I expression in vivo are being evaluated to prevent immunoselection. Recently, a strategy utilizing spontaneous antibody responses to tumor-associated antigens (SEREX) has led to the identification of a new CT antigen, NY-ESO-1. In a melanoma patient with high titer antibody against NY-ESO-1 also a strong HLA-A2 restricted CTL reactivity against the same antigen was found. Clinical studies involving tumor antigens that induce both antibody- and CTL-responses will show whether these are better candidates for immunotherapy of cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Active*
  • Neoplasm, Residual / therapy*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*


  • Cancer Vaccines