Identification and characterization of agonist epitopes of the MUC1-C oncoprotein

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2014 Feb;63(2):161-74. doi: 10.1007/s00262-013-1494-7. Epub 2013 Nov 15.


The MUC1 tumor-associated antigen is overexpressed in the majority of human carcinomas and several hematologic malignancies. Much attention has been paid to the hypoglycosylated variable number of tandem repeats (VNTR) region of the N-terminus of MUC1 as a vaccine target, and recombinant viral vector vaccines are also being evaluated that express the entire MUC1 transgene. While previous studies have described MUC1 as a tumor-associated tissue differentiation antigen, studies have now determined that the C-terminus of MUC1 (MUC1-C) is an oncoprotein, and its expression is an indication of poor prognosis in numerous tumor types. We report here the identification of nine potential CD8⁺ cytotoxic T lymphocyte epitopes of MUC1, seven in the C-terminus and two in the VNTR region, and have identified enhancer agonist peptides for each of these epitopes. These epitopes span HLA-A2, HLA-A3, and HLA-A24 major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I alleles, which encompass the majority of the population. The agonist peptides, compared to the native peptides, more efficiently (a) generate T-cell lines from the peripheral blood mononuclear cells of cancer patients, (b) enhance the production of IFN-γ by peptide-activated human T cells, and (c) lyse human tumor cell targets in an MHC-restricted manner. The agonist epitopes described here can be incorporated into various vaccine platforms and for the ex vivo generation of human T cells. These studies provide the rationale for the T-cell-mediated targeting of the oncogenic MUC1-C, which has been shown to be an important factor in both drug resistance and poor prognosis for numerous tumor types.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / immunology*
  • HLA-A2 Antigen / immunology
  • HLA-A24 Antigen / immunology
  • HLA-A3 Antigen / immunology
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis
  • Minisatellite Repeats
  • Mucin-1 / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Peptide Fragments / immunology*


  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • HLA-A2 Antigen
  • HLA-A24 Antigen
  • HLA-A3 Antigen
  • Mucin-1
  • Peptide Fragments
  • Interferon-gamma