Purpose: As compared with natural tumor peptide sequences, carefully selected analog peptides may be more immunogenic and thus better suited for vaccination. However, T cells in vivo activated by such altered analog peptides may not necessarily be tumor specific because sequence and structure of peptide analogs differ from corresponding natural peptides.
Experimental design: Three melanoma patients were immunized with a Melan-A peptide analog that binds more strongly to HLA-A*0201 and is more immunogenic than the natural sequence. This peptide was injected together with a saponin-based adjuvant, followed by surgical removal of lymph node(s) draining the site of vaccination.
Results: Ex vivo analysis of vaccine site draining lymph nodes revealed antigen-specific CD8+ T cells, which had differentiated to memory cells. In vitro, these cells showed accelerated proliferation upon peptide stimulation. Nearly all (16 of 17) of Melan-A-specific CD8+ T-cell clones generated from these lymph nodes efficiently killed melanoma cells.
Conclusions: Patient immunization with the analog peptide leads to in vivo activation of T cells that were specific for the natural tumor antigen, demonstrating the usefulness of the analog peptide for melanoma immunotherapy.