The anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) is recognized by the immune system as a tumor antigen, and preclinical evidence suggests that ALK-rearranged NSCLCs can also be successfully targeted immunologically using vaccine-based approaches. In contrast to ALK-rearranged lymphomas, the frequency and clinical significance of spontaneous ALK immune responses in patients with ALK-rearranged NSCLCs are largely unknown. We developed an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to measure anti-ALK antibody levels and mapped specific peptide epitope sequences within the ALK cytoplasmic domain in patients with non-small cell lung cancer. The ELISA method showed good correlation with ALK antibody titers measured with a standard immunocytochemical approach. Strong anti-ALK antibody responses were detected in 9 of 53 (17.0%) ALK-positive NSCLC patients and in 0 of 38 (0%) ALK-negative NSCLC patients (P<0.01), and the mean antibody levels were significantly higher in ALK-positive than in ALK-negative NSCLC patients (P=0.02). Across individual patients, autoantibodies recognized different epitopes in the ALK cytoplasmic domain, most of which clustered outside the tyrosine kinase domain. Whether the presence of high ALK autoantibody levels confers a more favorable prognosis in this patient population warrants further investigation.
Keywords: anaplastic lymphoma kinase; autoantibodies; immunotherapy; lung cancer.