Background aims: EBV type II latency tumors, such as Hodgkin lymphoma (HL), Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and nasopharyngeal carcinoma, express a limited array of EBV antigens including Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen (EBNA)1, latent membrane protein (LMP)1, LMP2, and BamH1-A right frame 1 (BARF1). Adoptive immunotherapy for these malignancies have focused on EBNA1, LMP1 and LMP2 because little is known about the cellular immune response to BARF1.
Methods: To investigate whether BARF1 is a potential T-cell immunotherapy target, we determined the frequency of BARF1-specific T-cell responses in the peripheral blood of EBV-seropositive healthy donor and patients with EBV-positive malignancies, mapped epitopes and evaluated the effector function of ex vivo-generated BARF1-specific T-cell lines.
Results: BARF1-specific T cells were present in the peripheral blood of 12/16 (75%) EBV-positive healthy donors and 13/20 (65%) patients with EBV-positive malignancies. Ex vivo expanded BARF1-specific T-cell lines contained CD4- and CD8-positive T-cell subpopulations, and we identified 23 BARF1 peptides, which encoded major histocompatibility complex class I- and/or II-restricted epitopes. Epitope mapping identified one human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A*02-restricted epitope that was recognized by 50% of HLA-A*02, EBV-seropositive donors and one HLA-B*15(62)-restricted epitope. Exvivo expanded BARF1-specific T cells recognized and killed autologous, EBV-transformed lymphoblastoid cell lines and partially HLA-matched EBV-positive lymphoma cell lines.
Discussion: BARF1 should be considered as an immunotherapy target for EBV type II (and III) latency. Targeting BARF1, in addition to EBNA1, LMP1 and LMP2, has the potential to improve the efficacy of current T-cell immunotherapy approaches for these malignancies.
Keywords: BARF1; EBV; EBV-positive malignancies; immunotherapy.
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