Microsatellite instability (MSI) caused by defective DNA mismatch repair (MMR) is a hallmark of hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancers (HNPCC) but also occurs in about 15% of sporadic tumors. If instability affects microsatellites in coding regions, translational frameshifts lead to truncated proteins often marked by unique frameshift peptide sequences at their C-terminus. Since MSI tumors show enhanced lymphocytic infiltration and our previous analysis identified numerous coding mono- and dinucleotide repeat-bearing candidate genes as targets of genetic instability, we examined the role of frameshift peptides in triggering cellular immune responses. Using peptide pulsed autologous CD40-activated B cells, we have generated cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) that specifically recognize HLA-A2.1-restricted peptides derived from frameshift sequences. Among 16 frameshift peptides predicted from mutations in 8 different genes, 3 peptides conferred specific lysis of target cells exogenously loaded with cognate peptide. One peptide derived from a (-1) frameshift mutation in the TGFbetaIIR gene gave rise to a CTL bulk culture capable of lysing the MSI colorectal cancer cell line HCT116 carrying this frameshift mutation. Given the huge number of human coding microsatellites and assuming only a fraction being mutated and encoding immunologically relevant peptides in MSI tumors, frameshift protein sequences represent a novel subclass of tumor-specific antigens. It is tempting to speculate that a frameshift peptide-directed vaccination approach not only could offer new treatment modalities for existing MSI tumors but also might benefit asymptomatic at-risk individuals in HNPCC families by a prophylactic vaccination strategy.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.