Immunity to melanoma: unraveling the relation of tumor immunity and autoimmunity

Oncogene. 2003 May 19;22(20):3180-7. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1206462.


Cancer cells express self-antigens that are weakly recognized by the immune system. Even though responses against autologous cells are difficult to induce, the immune system is still able to mount a response against cancer. The discovery of the molecular identity of antigens that are recognized by the immune system of melanoma patients has led to the elucidation of tumor immunity at a cellular and molecular level. Multiple pathways in both the priming and effector phases of melanoma rejection have been described. Animal models' active immunotherapies for melanoma show a requirement for the cellular compartment of the immune system in the priming phase, primarily CD4+T cells. More diverse elements are required for the effector phase, including components from the innate immune system (macrophages, complement and/or natural killer cells) and from the adaptive immune system (CD8+T cells and B cells). Minor differences in amino-acid sequences of antigens must determine the particular mechanisms involved in tumor rejection. Since the immune system contains T and B cells that recognize and reject autologous cells, a consequence of tumor immunity is potential autoimmunity. There are distinct pathways for tumor immunity and autoimmunity. The requirements for autoimmunity at the priming phase seem to be CD4+/IFN-gamma dependent while the effector mechanisms are alternative and redundant. Vitiligo (autoimmune hypopigmentation) can be mediated by T cells, FcgammaR+macrophages and/or complement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies / immunology
  • Antigens, Differentiation / immunology
  • Antigens, Differentiation / physiology
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology*
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / physiology
  • Autoimmunity / physiology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Germ Cells / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular / physiology
  • Melanoma / immunology*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Tumor Escape*


  • Antibodies
  • Antigens, Differentiation
  • Antigens, Neoplasm