Purpose: To investigate the presence and impact of spontaneous telomerase-specific CD4 T-cell responses in cancer patients.
Experimental design: A multistep approach was used to design novel pan-HLA-DR-restricted peptides from telomerase. T-cell clones isolated from cancer patients were used to characterize the polarization of telomerase-specific CD4 response. The presence of spontaneous CD4 T-cell response against telomerase was monitored in 84 metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients before first-line chemotherapy (CT) using IFN-γ ELISPOT assay. Then we analyzed the impact of the pretherapeutic telomerase-specific CD4 T immunity on clinical outcome in patients according to their respective response to CT.
Results: We described four novel telomerase-derived CD4 epitopes referred as universal cancer peptides (UCP) that effectively bind to most commonly found human MHC class II alleles. UCP-specific CD4 T-cell repertoire is present in human and UCP-specific CD4 T-cell clones generated from cancer patients exhibited high avidity and are Th1 polarized. Significant frequency (38%) of naturally occurring UCP-specific T-cell responses were detected before CT in advanced NSCLC but not in healthy volunteers. This response was shown to significantly increase overall survival (OS) of patients responding to CT (Median OS: 53 vs. 40 weeks, P = 0.034).
Conclusions: These results show for the first time a potential synergistic effect of telomerase-specific CD4 T-cell response with CT response in NSCLC and underline the potential role of tumor-specific CD4 T-cell response on the efficiency of conventional anticancer therapy.