Many peptide epitopes for cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) have been identified from melanocytic differentiation proteins. Vaccine trials with these peptides have been limited mostly to those associated with HLA-A2, and immune responses have been detected inconsistently. Cases of clinical regression have been observed after peptide vaccination in some trials, but melanoma regressions have not correlated well with T-cell responses measured in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs). We vaccinated stage IV melanoma patients with a mixture of gp100 and tyrosinase peptides restricted by HLA-A1 (DAEKSDICTDEY), HLA-A2 (YLEPGPVTA and YMDGTMSQV) and HLA-A3 (ALLAVGATK) in an emulsion with GM-CSF and Montanide ISA-51 adjuvant. CTL responses were assessed in PBLs and in a lymph node draining a vaccine site (sentinel immunized node, SIN). We found CTL responses to vaccinating peptides in the SIN in 5/5 patients (100%). Equivalent assays detected peptide-reactive CTLs in PBLs of 2 of these 5 patients (40%). CTLs expanded from the SIN lysed melanoma cells naturally expressing tyrosinase or gp100. We demonstrated immunogenicity for peptides restricted by HLA-A1 and -A3 and for 1 HLA-A2 restricted peptide, YMDGTMSQV. Immune monitoring of clinical trials by evaluation of PBLs alone may under-estimate immunogenicity; evaluation of SIN provides a new and sensitive approach for defining responses to tumor vaccines and correlating these responses with clinical outcomes. This combination of an immunogenic vaccine strategy with a sensitive analysis of CTL responses demonstrates the potential for inducing and detecting anti-tumor immune responses in the majority of melanoma patients.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.