Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is resistant to conventional treatments. Novel, targeted treatments are hampered by the relative lack of MPM-associated tumour antigens. The aim of this study was to evaluate the level of expression and the relevance of 5T4 as a tumour-associated antigen in MPM. 5T4 expression was assessed by Western blotting, flow cytometry, immuno-cytochemistry and -histochemistry in 11 mesothelioma cell lines, 21 tumour biopsies, and ex vivo tumour cells obtained from the pleural fluid (PF) of 10 patients. 5T4 antibody levels were also determined in the plasma of patients and healthy donors. The susceptibility of MPM cells to 5T4-specific T-cell-mediated killing was determined using an HLA-A2(+), CD8(+) T-cell line, developed against the 5T4(17-25) peptide. We report here that cell surface 5T4 expression was detected in all mesothelioma cell lines and PF cell samples. Mesothelin and CD200, a suggested mesothelioma marker, were co-expressed with 5T4 on tumour cells in PF. Immunohistochemistry confirmed overexpression of 5T4, similar to mesothelin, on tumour cells but not on reactive stroma in all tissue sections tested. Median 5T4 antibody levels were 46% higher in patient than in healthy donor plasma, indicating immune recognition. Importantly, 5T4-specific CD8(+) T-cells were able to kill four out of six HLA-A2(+) MPM cell lines but not an HLA-A2(-) cell line, demonstrating immune recognition of MPM-associated 5T4 antigen at the effector T-cell level. We conclude that 5T4 is a potential new antigen for targeted therapies such as immunotherapy in MPM, as it is overexpressed on mesothelioma cells and recognised by 5T4-specific cytotoxic T-cells. Our findings have been translated into a Phase II clinical trial applying 5T4-targeted therapies in MPM patients.
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