Defining HLA-II Ligand Processing and Binding Rules with Mass Spectrometry Enhances Cancer Epitope Prediction

Immunity. 2019 Oct 15;51(4):766-779.e17. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2019.08.012. Epub 2019 Sep 5.


Increasing evidence indicates CD4+ T cells can recognize cancer-specific antigens and control tumor growth. However, it remains difficult to predict the antigens that will be presented by human leukocyte antigen class II molecules (HLA-II), hindering efforts to optimally target them therapeutically. Obstacles include inaccurate peptide-binding prediction and unsolved complexities of the HLA-II pathway. To address these challenges, we developed an improved technology for discovering HLA-II binding motifs and conducted a comprehensive analysis of tumor ligandomes to learn processing rules relevant in the tumor microenvironment. We profiled >40 HLA-II alleles and showed that binding motifs were highly sensitive to HLA-DM, a peptide-loading chaperone. We also revealed that intratumoral HLA-II presentation was dominated by professional antigen-presenting cells (APCs) rather than cancer cells. Integrating these observations, we developed algorithms that accurately predicted APC ligandomes, including peptides from phagocytosed cancer cells. These tools and biological insights will enable improved HLA-II-directed cancer therapies.

Keywords: HLA class II; HLA ligandomics; HLA-II; MHC; RNA-Seq; SILAC; antigen; autophagy; cancer; epitope prediction; isotope labeling; machine learning; mass spectrometry; neoantigen; peptide processing; phagocytosis; proteomics.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Alleles
  • Antigen Presentation
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology*
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology*
  • Datasets as Topic
  • Epitope Mapping / methods*
  • HLA Antigens / genetics
  • HLA Antigens / metabolism*
  • HLA-D Antigens / metabolism
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Interaction Domains and Motifs / genetics
  • Software


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • HLA Antigens
  • HLA-D Antigens
  • HLA-DM antigens
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II