The term "neoantigen," as applied to molecules newly expressed on tumor cells, has a long history. The groundbreaking discovery of a cancer causing virus in chickens by Rous over 100 years ago, followed by discoveries of other tumor-causing viruses in animals, suggested a viral etiology of human cancers. The search for other oncogenic viruses in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in the discoveries of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and human papilloma virus (HPV), and continues until the present time. Contemporaneously, the budding field of immunology was posing the question can the immune system of animals or humans recognize a tumor that develops from one's own tissues and what types of antigens would distinguish the tumor from normal cells. Molecules encoded by oncogenic viruses provided the most logical candidates and evidence was quickly gathered for both humoral and cellular recognition of viral antigens, referred to as neoantigens. Often, however, serologic responses to virus-bearing tumors revealed neoantigens unrelated to viral proteins and expressed on multiple tumor types, foreshadowing later findings of multiple changes in other genes in tumor cells creating nonviral neoantigens.
Copyright © 2018 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press; all rights reserved.