Folate receptor-targeted immunotherapy of cancer: mechanism and therapeutic potential

Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2004 Apr 29;56(8):1161-76. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2004.01.009.


The vitamin, folic acid, has become a useful ligand for targeted cancer therapies because it binds to a tumor-associated antigen known as the folate receptor (FR). By linking folic acid to therapeutic agents, folate-targeted cancer therapies can deliver therapeutic drugs specifically to FR-positive tumor cells. This chapter provides a summary of a specific application of folate-targeted therapies whereby folic acid is exploited to carry an attached hapten (a highly antigenic molecule) to the surfaces of tumor cells for the purpose of rendering the tumors more immunogenic. The basic strategy is to (i) saturate (label) the surface of FR-positive tumor cells with a folate-hapten conjugate against which the cancer-bearing host already has a pre-existing or induced immunity, (ii) allow the surface bound haptens to attract anti-hapten antibodies to the tumor cell surface, and (iii) stimulate Fc receptor-bearing immune cells to mount an antitumor response against the anti-hapten antibody opsonized tumor cells. In immune competent murine tumor models, hapten-marked cancer cells have been shown to be quickly recognized by antibodies and the associated Fc receptor-expressing immune cells dedicated to eliminating antibody-coated target cells. Given the need for cancer cells to escape immune surveillance in order to proliferate and survive in vivo, folate-targeted immunotherapies that mark an otherwise immunologically "invisible" cancer cell as distinctively "non-self" may provide a key strategy for combating malignant disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carrier Proteins / immunology*
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Folate Receptors, GPI-Anchored
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / immunology*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Folate Receptors, GPI-Anchored
  • Receptors, Cell Surface