Tumors often co-exist with T cells that recognize somatically mutated peptides presented by cancer cells on major histocompatibility complex I (MHC-I). However, it is unknown why the immune system fails to eliminate immune-recognizable neoplasms before they manifest as frank disease. To understand the determinants of MHC-I peptide immunogenicity in nascent tumors, we tested the ability of thousands of MHC-I ligands to cause tumor subclone rejection in immunocompetent mice by use of a new 'PresentER' antigen presentation platform. Surprisingly, we show that immunogenic tumor antigens do not lead to immune-mediated cell rejection when the fraction of cells bearing each antigen ('clonal fraction') is low. Moreover, the clonal fraction necessary to lead to rejection of immunogenic tumor subclones depends on the antigen. These data indicate that tumor neoantigen heterogeneity has an underappreciated impact on immune elimination of cancer cells and has implications for the design of immunotherapeutics such as cancer vaccines.
Keywords: cancer biology; cancer immunology; genetic heterogeneity; mouse; tumor antigens; tumor evolution; tumor resistance to immune response.
© 2018, Gejman et al.