Mapping the HLA Ligandome of Colorectal Cancer Reveals an Imprint of Malignant Cell Transformation

Cancer Res. 2018 Aug 15;78(16):4627-4641. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-17-1745. Epub 2018 May 22.


Immune cell infiltrates have proven highly relevant for colorectal carcinoma prognosis, making colorectal cancer a promising candidate for immunotherapy. Because tumors interact with the immune system via HLA-presented peptide ligands, exact knowledge of the peptidome constitution is fundamental for understanding this relationship. Here, we comprehensively describe the naturally presented HLA ligandome of colorectal carcinoma and corresponding nonmalignant colon (NMC) tissue. Mass spectrometry identified 35,367 and 28,132 HLA class I ligands on colorectal carcinoma and NMC, attributable to 7,684 and 6,312 distinct source proteins, respectively. Cancer-exclusive peptides were assessed on source protein level using the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) and protein analysis through evolutionary relationships (PANTHER), revealing pathognomonic colorectal carcinoma-associated pathways, including Wnt, TGFβ, PI3K, p53, and RTK-RAS. Relative quantitation of peptide presentation on paired colorectal carcinoma and NMC tissue further identified source proteins from cancer- and infection-associated pathways to be overrepresented merely within the colorectal carcinoma ligandome. From the pool of tumor-exclusive peptides, a selected HLA-ligand subset was assessed for immunogenicity, with the majority exhibiting an existing T-cell repertoire. Overall, these data show that the HLA ligandome reflects cancer-associated pathways implicated in colorectal carcinoma oncogenesis, suggesting that alterations in tumor cell metabolism could result in cancer-specific, albeit not mutation-derived, tumor antigens. Hence, a defined pool of unique tumor peptides, attributable to complex cellular alterations that are exclusive to malignant cells, might comprise promising candidates for immunotherapeutic applications.Significance: Cancer-associated pathways are reflected in the antigenic landscape of colorectal cancer, suggesting that tumor-specific antigens do not necessarily have to be mutation-derived but may also originate from other alterations in cancer cells. Cancer Res; 78(16); 4627-41. ©2018 AACR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence / genetics
  • Antigen Presentation / immunology
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / immunology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / immunology
  • HLA Antigens / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Ligands
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Peptides / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • HLA Antigens
  • Ligands
  • Peptides